Lilian Jackson Braun - The Cat Kao K'o Kung

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Kao K'o Kung (1248-1310)

Interestingly, the famous Chinese artist Kao K'o Kung was in charge of Workforce Development in ancient China under the rule of the Mongols.

KKK moved to what is now Peking and then to Hangchow. His uneventful government post was Supervisor at the Ministry of Occupations at age 28, followed by another as head of Ministry of Justice until he was 62.

Apparently, he painted only occasionally, if at all. During wine parties, he sometimes improvised his subject matter. KKK nearly aways refrained from signing his paintings. Kao K'o Kung, Chao Meng-fu, Shang Ch'i, and Li K'an made up the Four Masters of the Early Yuan period.

"Hills Growing to Green and White Clouds"
"Hills Growing to Green and White Clouds" | Source

Naming the Cat

Kao K'o-kung perfected his painting of Chinese landscapes and bamboo scenes in shades of the same single color.

He specialized in mountains in mysterious fogs and rain and one of his paintings is presented to the right.

Kao K'o Kung was said to be the single painting master in the north of China to whom no one else could come close in the quality of their works. The other arts masters of the period said this themselves.

It is for all these reasons that the former Good Living Editor for the Detroit Free Press, having covered Chinese Period Art extensively, chose this name - Kao K'o Kung - for the moniker of the cat with extra whiskers and an extra sense that would be the lead detective in The Cat Who Mysteries from 1966 - 2008.

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Cat and Newspaper ESP

In her early marriage, LJB wrote a short story to work through the death (murder, actually) of her pet cat Koko.

Titled alternately as The Sin of Madam Phloi and The Revenge of Madam Phloi, the story is set in a rather tall apartment building. Siamese mother cat Madam Phloi has a male kitten (LJB's Koko). A fat male neighbor does not like cats. At an opportune time, said nasty neighbor pushes the kitten over the ledge to his death.

Madam Phloi waits for her own opportune moment and manipulates the killer into falling to his death over the same ledge. The connection between Madam Phloi and the revenge killing of the anit-Siamese neighbor cannot be proved.

Thus begins the series of Koko the cat detective that has extra whiskers and his Detroit ("Down Below") newspaperman friend with the over-sized mustache - James Mackintosh "Qwill" Qwilleran. They both sense things through their whiskers and solve mysteries when the police cannot do so. An addition to the family, petite Siamese Yum Yum helps whenever she can.

Coming back from alcoholism and the death of his ex-wife in a mental sanitarium, Qwill inherits a Bill Gates sized fortune from his mom's friend Aunt Fanny up in Pickaxe City, Michigan - 400 Miles North of Everywhere. With this event, he becomes a 1960s - 2000s John Creasey's "Toff"; but, not as modern as David Housewrite's Minnesota 21st Century rich man, Rush McKensie with bullet riddled fancy car.

Four decades of The Cat Who... mysteries began with The Cat Who Could Read Backwardsin 1966 Three murders were solved in that first novel, a period piece about Detroit and northern Michigan and their colorful characters. The author has included newspeople, college students, artists, Hippies, drugs, jealousies and turf battles in an engaging way. There is some blood and several late night "accidents", but not much gore. It is more subtle than that.

Having given up completely on marriage and almost on women entirely, Qwill does not indulge in sexual escapades, but has a series of romantic interests that settles on one or two women throughout the series of novels. Sex is generally implied "off screen" as it were, for all the relevant characters.

The crew of the ensuing series are as loved by their fans as the cast of The Red Green Show is by theirs and it is a wonder that television has not produced a weekly series of it. Many readers feel that Tom Selleck would have made an admirable Qwilleran.

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No Profanity Please

As a professional editor and reporter herself, LJB has not included much profanity in her novels and has continued to write them on yellow legal pads in pencil. While some pundits speak of them as "old lady" stories when compared to movie themes like those of Grind House, there is room for both and some people like neither.

Perhaps there should be less denigration of others' works and more attention given to one's own writing improvement, hmmm?

The stories through the mid 2000s have offered interesting characters, regional legends, art criticism, antique provenance, puzzles, and coincidences that entertain readers who enjoy such things. Two cookbooks of recipes from the mysteries are very good and have sold many copies. A book of related Pickaxe City/Moose County legends has been well received and is a collector's item. Other "accessory" kinds of books include The Cat Who Companion, a type of concordance, and others.

Sidney Vicious, Cat at Real Change, Seattle weekly activist newspaper.

The Cat Who Could Read Backward

At the beginning of this story, Qwill, a former WWII correspondent, has been through alcoholism and a failed marriage of madness, the beginning of recovery, and the realization that he needs to find work again.

He was an expert at crime reporting and criminology writing previously, but once back on a newspaper in a city that is presumably Detroit, he is assigned to Arts and Fine Living, as well as Food. It's an education.

Qwill has no family left, but finds his childhood friend from Chicago to be the Features Editor at the local newspaper - a metaphor for the Detroit Free Press. Jim learns a bit about art and art criticism, as well as about the odd art critic who has only one hand and a strange Siamese cat in a house that looks like it is a stage set from TV's The Addams Family of the same time period..

Living in several odd and interesting places each year, Jim Q. finally moves into an apartment in the home of the art citric - George Bonifield Mountclemens III - and gets to know the astounding Koko.This Siamese waits for the daily paper and places his nose on each headline and sentence of each page, moving it from right to left until he is done with the paper. No one may have it until he is finished. 

Steps to Hope

The author supports Steps to Hope in North Carolina. it is a foundation that helps the victims of domestic abuse and violence, just as Qwill has helped them in the novels from time to time.

Steps to Hope

P. O. Box 518; Columbus, NC, 28722

  • Phone: 828-894-2340 24-hr. hotline

General Questions: steps@stepstohope.org


Artistic Underbelly

The underworld of fine arts pokes its head up from the sewer in this novel.

LJB shows us counterfeit art pieces, artists that do not exist, and murder in the name of art and the selling of it for large sums of money.

The novel also portrays a 1960s "Happening" - a participatory living art piece framed inside a big party. It includes things like monster statues, confetti, umbrellas, steamers, rock music, and other materials for partygoers to release, throw, and fall onto.

Murders occur at a high-end retail art store and gallery, while a strange half-painting of a monkey is stolen. When joined to it's other long-missing half, it is worth a fortune, but no one knows where it is.

A murder happens at the Happening.

A third murder happens in the winter patios of the Mountclemens house as well.

Koko sense all of these things and howls like a banshee at the moment of each death.

With nowhere to go, Koko, is adopted by Jim Qwilleran, and a lifetime of murders and detecting ensue.Yum Yum is a tiny Siamese kitten thrown out of the house into the streets by an art collector of Asian pieces and a hater of cats, and Qwill and Koko take her in as well. They live in different places everywhere in the eastern United States, it seems and collect murder stories and lifelong friends as they go. from Florida to New York to Minnesota.

Each story contains at least one murder puzzle to be solved with the help of Koko, who seems to be able to pick words out of the dictionary, read book titles apropos to the murder occurring and and play 3-4 bars on the piano of songs with lyrics that give clues

The books are fun. The only reason I put off reading them was their 1990s' fluorescent covers that hurt my eyes. I don't recall how or where I acquired the first one, now, but it was not until 2003. I say to ignore the covers and have fun with the stories.

You may wish the people were real and, as in real life, important characters die off or are even murdered. They are remembered in subsequent novels, even at the addition of new characters.

We Miss You, Lilian Jackson Braun Bettinger (June 20, 1913 – June 4, 2011)

Summary - Reference: Tyron Daily Bulletin newspaper:

Lilian Jackson Braun Bettinger, 97, author of The Cat Who mystery series for more than 40 years, died of natural causes on Saturday June 4, 2011, at Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills in Landrum, S.C.

She had lived in Tryon, North Carolina for the past 23 years. Ms. Braun’s first husband, Louis Paul Braun, died many years before her.

Ms. Braun wrote all of her books in long hand. They were published with limited editing. "I don't pay attention to the publishing business. I just write my kitty-cat stories."

"She died with one regret," her husband (Earl Bettinger, actor) of 33 years said Monday. "Because of her failing health, she was unable to finish her last novel, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke. She regretted it most of all, because so many fans wanted another book,” he said.

Donations may be made any time to Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills, 260 Fairwinds Road, Landrum, S.C. 29356

Life Of The Author

Ms. Braun's personal life was largely a secret before she died, including her parents and first marriage; however, some history is available at the Tryon website at the link to "news." I loved that Ms. Braun wrote her first poem at age 2, became a sports-poem spoem writer for the Detroit Free Press at age 17 and never stopped writing until she was too sick to write.

Her first short story was written to work through the grief of the first kitten she had, thought to have been pushed out an apartment window by a cat-hater in the building. The story is a ery well suited triumph over that incident and appears under two titles: The Revenge of Madame Phloy and The Sin of Madame Phloy.

One of my favorite Cat Who books is The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, about the wonderful people of the Potato Mountains in North Carolina - those are really the Blue Ridge Mountains and I know how wonderful those people are.

I am glad to have known some of Ms. Braun's spirit through her writing. She was a welcomed addition to the world while she was here.

Tryon in the Blue Ridge Mountains

A markerTryon, North Carolina -
Tryon, NC, USA
[get directions]

More by this Author


Comments & Thoughts 18 comments

Jeanette M 8 years ago

Patty Inglish, you've packed this hub with a ton of interesting information and good reviews. Thanks


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

With 40 years' worth of books, I thought it needed a bit of good background! Thanks for visiting.

Patty


CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

I've never heard of these books before. You make them sound very exciting and I will certainly keep my eye open for copies.


Message board 8 years ago

Good one. Thanks for sharing :)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

I *LOVE* the Cat Who books! A neighbor got me hooked on them about 15 years ago, but alas I haven't read any for a couple of years and need to catch up. This hub is a reminder that a couple of weeks ago, I saw a CW I hadn't read and intended to get but didn't. Over the 3-day weekend, I *must* remedy that.

The Cat Who books aren't deep or complicated, just nice "feel good" reads. I like them as a palate-cleanser between "heavy" books. My only complaint is the lack of a diagram of Quill's home, a rather elaborate converted barn.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

I'd like to see that diagram, too, JamaGenee. The UK editions have illustrations, too. I wonder if there are diagrams?

The last 2-3 in the mid-2000s have a different flavor - More like diaries and rather shorter. I like The Cat Who Moved a Mountain very much.


Ali Kayn 7 years ago

Many thanks for this background. Where did you get it from?

I too would like to see illustrations of the barn, I've never been able to envisage it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

I did Asian Studies as a minor in college.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

Lillian Jackson Braun is a favourite of mine. Although I realize she was nearly 100 when she died this month, it was still sad to see her die after all the great books she wrote. I'm going to reread her books in order. I've alwatys had an affinity for the names Koko and Yum Yum as they are from The Mikado from G&S. My grandmother performed in allthe Gilbert and Sullivan productions with the Summerland singers and Players in Central and Northern B.C.-except The Mikado, the source of the names. Due to extenuating circumstances, she was unabile to attend the auditions. She started out in the chorus and graduated to starring roles.

I understand that LBJ had a variety of pets besides her two Siamese cats and that she always had a male and female Koko and Yum Yum-i.e, Koko II, Koko III.

RIP LBJ


rorshak sobchak 5 years ago

Another great hub! Keep up the excellent work!:)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Flora! - I have never seen the Mikado, although I know the characters' names. I must see it very soon. Somewhere on the Internet is a picture of the first LJB Koko, her real pet. I hope I see it again.


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 5 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

This is one of my most favorite mystery series. We've read all of them! George Guidall read them for the audios and let me just say, he's the best!


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I'm sad she is gone...i think I'll go read one of her books. Great series and a wonderful hib.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

@rorshak - Thanks!

@Frieda - I remember taking the George Guiodal tapes from the library to listen - on one, he also did an interview as Quill with an actress portaying Lilian. It was great.

@UW - I SO wish "The Cat Who Smelled Smoke" had been written or would be wrtten by a ghost author now. I'll read The Cat Who Moved a Mountain again and The Cat Who Lived High. I've read the first book in the series 6 times.


Delores 5 years ago

This is the best piece I've read on the author. I've rarely read a series of books, but Ms. Braun's is a noted exception (I'm about 1/2 way through). Pure, unabashed escapism, a "guilty" pleasure. Each book like a fresh box of bon-bons, familiar, but always something new!

An added bonus is that I'm a native Detroiter, so I had extra fun deciphering possible real-life locales. (i.e., Happy View Woods = Harper Woods, etc.). My Uncle Phil worked in circulation for 40 years and I wonder if they've ever met at the occasional Free Press Christmas party.

Again, an A-1 piece; Qwilleran would have approved.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Thanks very, very much Dolores - I discovered Ms. Braun's books and history only about 10 years ago, but have enjoyed every word.

I think your Uncle Phil may well have met her. And I wish we had a real live Qwill today.


carol kroeckel, MO. 5 years ago

I have enjoyed the cat who series for quite a while now, 1968. I bought her 1st book then and have added since then. I started having a family, so I lost track of time there for quite a while. So when she started writing again, I think I started reading and buying them again. So now, I have my own set and all that LJB has had a hand in writing. The cat Who Companion has a map of the town of Pickax and county side around there, if anyones is interested. I just regret that she did not have time to bring Polly home from France and figure out the last murder for us. Maybe a ghost writter will step in and save the series for us. I have always thought that this would make a great movie or tv series.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

I agree - I would love to see The Cat Who Smelled Smoke come to fruition. I quess she was tired of Polly; in one interview she said she got tired of characters and killed them off. Did you like Polly? I didn't always...

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