Being a moderate fan of the Lilian Jackson Braun’s series, “The Cat Who…” I thought I’d check out Braun’s 2006 offering, The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell. Koko, honey, what’s happened to you?
Those of you who are familiar with the stories know that they’re about semi-retired journalist and amateur sleuth, James Qwilleran, and his two Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum. Well, Yum Yum’s there primarily for moral support. It’s really Koko who solves all the cases. In previous volumes Koko has seen ghosts, predicted the future, and demonstrated his seeming ability to read. In this, the 28th book in the series, Koko has a new trick. He drops down from the rafters on people he doesn’t like. Kind of a let-down, Koko.
Qwilleran is helping his small town of Pickaxe “400 miles north of everywhere” prepare for its sesquicentennial. The town is 150 years old, and the natives are agog with preparations. There are to be 3 parades: Pickaxe Past, Pickaxe Now, and Pickaxe Future. There is to be an antique auction. There is to be a cat auction. There is to be a scintillating series of articles on dear and departed Pickaxe notables, penned by local celebrity James Qwilleran. And there are a few dead bodies thrown into the mix.
There are a lot of problems with this book. First of all there’s the quantity of backstory. There are a lot of characters in Pickaxe. Most of them were lead characters in previous books. Either you already know their stories or you don’t much care, so there’s really not a lot of reason to provide capsule reviews of the history of every single person you meet — unless perhaps you’re working to promote your other books. Ya think?
All the returning characters have cats now, it seems. The characters talk about their cats a lot. They provide their names, and tell us the cats are wonderful. Tell us, not show us. No stories. I know a lot of cat people in real life — they have anecdotes!!!
The human characters suffer from pretty much the same lack of development. Qwilleran is tall. He has a mustache. He is famous. He is rich. He is famous for being rich and for having a mustache. He writes for the local newspaper. He is a good writer. He is famous for being a rich, mustached good writer. Oh, look, now he is going to smooth his mustache. Yawn.
I should probably also warn you about Qwilleran’s limericks, but I just can’t bring myself to think about them. Qwilleran’s limericks are pretty bad. Limericks don’t need to make a lot of sense, you understand, but they do need to have meter that scans. Not all of them are extemporaneous, so it’s not as though he didn’t have time to think about sharing them and reconsider. Miraculously, no one else seems to think they’re bad — I guess he knows his audience better than I do.
The mystery involves the return of a prodigal nephew to one of the wealthy locals. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Hint number one: he doesn’t like cats. Hint number two: cats don’t like him. Hmmmm, let me think.
Mind you, a riveting plot was never the real appeal of Braun’s books. The real charm was in the antics of the cats. But this book is, well, a little strange. There’s a bit about a missing pickaxe that never really goes anywhere. The second of the three parades gets rained out, and the third one just kind of drifts away into neverland. There’s a situation concerning an auction of live kitties that shows real comic potential but never really goes anywhere. These don’t seem to be “red herring” types of plot non-developments, you understand. It’s more as though the author just sort of lost interest. I know I did.
But what’s really distressing me the most is what’s happened to the remarkable Koko. Granted, the cat’s been solving crimes since 1966, and he’s bound to be tired. I’ve got to admit that I was a little worried about his aged bones plummeting from the heights. But it seems to be his mind that’s going first. He’s just not the cat he used to be. Poor baby.