The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun is the first book in the cosy mystery novel series, The Cat Who…. When Autumn began, I was determined to dive into this genre of books as it’s been a while since I have read from it. I wanted to begin with the very first cosy mystery series that I had ever read, way back in junior high school. It has been years since I’ve read through The Cat Who… series, and if I am to be completely honest, this did not age gracefully at all, but I still loved it.
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards introduces us to the main character of the series, Jim Qwilleran, who is a reporter that has recently moved to a small town and accepts a job as a feature writer. While meeting-and-greeting with potential artists for his features, he meets a fancy guy who owns an even fancier cat and moves into an apartment that the guys owns after hitting it off with him. Then shortly afterwards, a murder occurs, shocking the small-town. With the help of a sophisticated pussycat, Jim decides to help solve the mystery of the crime.
The first thing that I noticed about the book, or at the very least the thing that stood out to me the most, is how dated the book is with its mild use of offensive language. It has sprinkles of sexism, misogyny, racism, and homophobia that is made in a passing comment or two shared very sporadically in jest. They made me cringe a bit when they came up, but they are used, as I said, in extremely limited quantities and highlight that the book was written in the 1960s.
Aside from that, the novel is quite enjoyable. It is a comfortably paced and moderately predictable story that works to entertain. When I think of the phrase “cosy mystery,” this is the book that I feel fits that quite perfectly. Even though it is fairly easy to ascertain who the culprit it, the clues that lead to their reveal was pleasant to read through. I never felt bored. The fact that it’s also supremely easy to sit down and read large chunks at a time probably also helped me from feeling uninterested. The progression of events is natural with a terse prose and an interesting premise. Book one focuses quite a bit on the art scene in this small town, and I found it rather fascinating to see what sorts of artistic styles were viewed as being “hot stuff” during the 1960s. It was also a lot of fun reading about current trends—relative to the time period—being compared to some famous, historical artists.
There is a decent amount of characters that are introduced to us aside from the main character and the main kitty, Koko, which is an assured indication that the merry crime-solving adventures of Qwilleran and Koko won’t be ending here. Each character, for the most part, is rather humdrum, but they do have some unique personality quirks that help to differentiate them from one another. The artists are the ones that are a tad bit challenging to keep straight as they all start to blend together after a while (pun intended).
My favourite part—which shall come as no surprise—is the kitty, Kao K’o Kung, or otherwise known as Koko. His introduction was probably the most extravagant and pretentious intro ever, which was the picture-perfect compliment to his sophisticated and proud personality. I adored every second and even had a good chuckle or two. Koko’s bond with Jim develops slowly, but kindly. As a cat owner, it reminded me of how I built my bonds with each of my four cats. People don’t realise that cats have very distinct and individualistic identities, and The Cat Who Could Read Backwards does a brilliant job of truly capturing that element, as well as how trust is gradually built (or broken) between cat and human. It made my heart swoon with feel-good, floofy vibes.
Cats have many gifts that are denied humans, and yet we tend to rate them by human standards. To understand a cat, you must realize that he has his own gifts, his own viewpoint, even his own morality. A cat’s lack of speech does not make him a lower animal. Cats have a contempt of speech. Why should they talk when they can communicate without words? They manage very well among themselves, and they patiently try to make their thoughts known to humans. But in order to read a cat, you must be relaxed and receptive.”
Overall, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards is a delightful first book in a cosy mystery series, and it was so beautifully nostalgic for me to return to it after such a long time! This series was actually one of the first ones that I ever read as a kid, and one that cemented my love of books and mysteries in general. If you are in the market for some cosies for Autumn and Winter, then I highly recommend this to you, just be forewarned about the fact the language usage not ageing well. Go into it with a grain of salt and without the intention of taking it too seriously.