Mysterious Cats

Janet Coburn
4 min readAug 21, 2022

Books and cats. Cats and books. They go together like a hot dog and mustard. Well, no they don’t. And I don’t like mustard on my hot dogs anyway.

What I meant was that cats appear in a lot of books (and poems, songs, paintings and other forms of art, probably including architecture). They’re just so adorable and full of personality (I didn’t say “purr-sonality” — you’re welcome) that authors can’t resist them.

I studied some cat literature when I was an English major in college. There’s the cat in Kipling’s Just So Stories: “I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me.” And, maybe the best-known of all, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the source material for the Broadway musical Cats. Perhaps the most famous lines are “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter/It isn’t just one of your holiday games/You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter/When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

(Our cat Toby has at least three names. In addition to Toby, I may or may not have referred to him as “Toto-Booboo Baby,” and we also call him “Green-Eyed Monster.” But I digress.)

But contemporary books are populated by cats as well. Primary among the genres that feature them are mysteries and fantasy/science fiction. This week I’ll tackle mysteries and next week I’ll go on to F&SF, as it’s known.

Probably the best-known series of mysteries featuring cats is the “The Cat Who…” books by Lilian Jackson Braun. This was a series that started back in the 60s, took a break for a couple of decades, and eventually racked up 29 books with titles like The Cat Who Could Read Backwards and The Cat Who Read Shakespeare through The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers in 2007, the last one before the author died at the age of 97.

I was a devotee of the series, which featured cat-sleuths Koko and Yum Yum, until The Cat Who Moved a Mountain (1992), when the plot was an idiotic one featuring two rival clans, the Taters and the Spuds, which was (I think) meant to offer biting social commentary but fell beyond flat. Later there was a satire called The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun, by Robert Kaplow, featuring cats named Ying-Tong and Poon-Tang solving the murder of Braun herself.

Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at and