(Photo by Jerry Prank, Dartford UK, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
I just came across a post reporting that the author of the Cat Who… books died on June 4th at the age of 97. I did a search to find out more about the circumstances of her death (and life) and located a couple of articles, one from the New York Times and one from the Detroit Free Press, which give some insight into her career. She had a more interesting background than I had ever imagined.
She was a very private person and wasn’t given to revealing much about her personal life. Being a true ‘lady’ of the old school, she let everyone believe she was born in 1926 until an interview in 2005 when she revealed her true birth date — June 20, 1913. She was born in the small town of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. Since the depression made a college education much too expensive, she became an advertising copywriter in Detroit for several stores and then moved to the Detroit Free Press where she spent the majority of her career as a lifestyle writer and editor. She wrote the first three of her books while working there and then stopped for eighteen years because her publisher wanted her to inject more sex and violence into her novels and that was just not her style.
Her first husband died in 1969. She married her second husband, an actor, about the time she retired and they moved to Bad Axe, Michigan where she did volunteer work for the next several years. Her second husband encouraged her to start writing again and she came out of retirement and published the bulk of her books after reaching the age of 70. She was a true technophobe — she wrote many of her books in longhand and then gave them to the typist. She never moved beyond a basic mechanical typewriter. She was more interested in her characters than in solving mysteries and admitted it and with the success of her books she started a trend that changed the mystery market.
She modeled her fictional town, Pickax, after Bad Axe, Michigan where she lived until the mid-eighties. If you’ve ever read any of her books, you can see that many of the stories and situations come from her experience on the newspaper. She actually did have a siamese cat who died at a young age under mysterious circumstances. It fell out of a ten story window and Ms. Braun was told by a neighbor that it had been pushed. She based one of her short stories on that incident. She did most of her writing from her retirement home in Tryon, North Carolina — a place she discovered while she was working on a story for the Free Press.
Her final years sound difficult. For the last several years of her life she and her husband didn’t have cats. She was given a siamese kitten which kept getting underfoot and after Ms. Braun tripped several times, it went back to live in Atlanta with the fan who had given it. Her older cat had to be put down. Ms. Braun’s health suffered and she developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and became so weak that she could no longer write after 2007 when her last book, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, was published.
I was fairly critical of this last book in a previous post (see Farewell to ‘The Cat Who…”) and I still stand by my opinion, but I think I better understand what was going on. I think that Ms. Braun knew that her time was limited and that she was trying to tie up loose ends, to get her characters and their lives settled. Her husband, Earl Bettinger, said that her one regret was that she was unable to finish her last novel, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke.
I hope that her characters, along with their author, will be left in peace. It would be a shame if anyone else tried to finish the book in her absence. She was a terrific storyteller and a great talent as well as an interesting and intelligent woman. May she rest in peace.
Read every one of lilian jackson braun cat who books..Loved them all ..and I usually had one of my own Siamese cats asleep on my lap.Bob in cincinnati Ohio
I adore her books. They’ve become old friends. I read them over and over again.
Just like Joycelyn, I do the same thing. So nice to read that I’m not the only one. I love her books.
The first book was a gift from my sister celebrating the birth of my son who is now 26. I have read them over and over again. They are like a warm blanket….
Re reading the Cat Who series has brightened these dreary days of confinement.
I sent Ms Braun a picture of my Siamese cat years ago and actually got a short handwritten note in return
MY husband and I both love these books! We have read the first 14. They have been a grear comfort in this time of Home confinement. ( my husband and I are both Senior citizens. Diane K.
My mother and I have been reading her books for over 20 yrs now. We read and reread them as we feel that they are old friends, however, we recently came across a new book called ” The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun ” written by Robert Kaplow – it is completely disgusting and doesn’t do justice to what a lovely story teller Ms. Braun was.
Love these books! I am rereading them again! They are a perfect read fo these long winter nights!
Love these books! I am reading them for the third time over the last 20 yrs. They are a great book to cozy up with on these long winter nights!
Just finishing up the Cat Who series of books for the third time. They help keep me sane in my retirement. Wonderfully satisfying stories.
I have started rereading Ms. Braun’s books. They are refreshing. She respects the rural residents who inhabit her “Pickax,” She had a gentle and delicious sense of humor, which is much too rare. Best of all, while she may not have had cats, she was in synch with them. Her plots are well worked out.
i have just started a 3rd cat who book by lilian braun, i knew nothing about these books til 2022 at the library. it was an accident and so glad librarian told me about mrs braun and her books. i love koko, quilleran,and yum yum,i feel that they are a part of my family and ive only read 3 of her books and cried when i found she passed. RIP MRS. LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN
I have such fond memories of reading this series of wonderful books by Ms Braun. My mother and I used to read them together. I’m going to start reading them again. My mother has passed away. I have her copies. I also just rescued a Siamese kitten, and have named her KoKo. I wish there were more to read!
Without knowing who she was, I met her once in the mid-90s. She sat down and had lunch with me in a cafeteria, and I had no idea who she was. She brought up the subject of books and we had an absolutely lovely conversation. I told her I enjoyed mysteries and I remember her asking me which authors I had read. She never shared her name but she casually asked me if I had read any of the cat who books….. I had not. I told her I had a Siamese. I picked up the first book at the library shortly after our conversation. I realized after I read the book that she was the author. It is such a treasured memory, and I love her books.. <3