Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the tremendously popular mystery series about crime-solving former reporter James Qwilleran and his two siamese “Watsons,” KoKo and Yum Yum, died on June 4 at the age of 97.
Braun began writing the “The Cat Who…” series in 1966, with the publication of The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (affiliate link).
After publishing the second and third books in the series, she took an 18-year hiatus from the series, publishing the next installment, The Cat Who Saw Red, in 1986.
“By the time I had written the fourth one, tastes in mysteries had changed,” Braun said in the obituary provided by her publisher, Penguin. “They wanted sex and violence, not kitty-cat stories. Gore was not my style, so I just forgot about ‘The Cat Who.'”
But when Braun retired from her job at The Detroit Free Press in 1984, her husband encouraged her to return to the world of James, KoKo and Yum Yum. Since then, Braun published 25 more “The Cat Who…” mysteries, ending with The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers in 2007.
Braun’s replacement of sex, violence and gore with purring, petting and meowing redefined the mystery genre, opening doors for more cat detectives, including Rita Mae Brown’s popular collaborations with her kitty, Squeaky Pie Brown, on the Mrs. Murphy mystery novels.
“[Lilian] ultimately created a whole new chapter in the American mystery,” said Natalee Rosenstein, senior editor at the Penguin Group’s Berkley Books imprint and Braun’s editor of more than 20 years. “But most of all, it is Lilian the person I will remember — a strong, dedicated, feisty woman who would always speak her mind and not be intimidated by anyone.”
Braun died of natural causes at Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills in Landrum. Throughout her career, she wrote 31 books, including two short story collections, and worked 30 years at the Free Press.