Lilian Jackson Braun Bettinger, author of ‘The Cat Who’ mysteries, dies at 97

June 8, 2011

Lilian Jackson Braun Bettinger, 97, the prolific best-selling author of a series of humorous mystery stories involving a pair of domesticated felines, died June 4 at a hospice in Landrum, S.C. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mrs. Bettinger wrote 29 books in “The Cat Who . . .” series, which detailed the lives of fictional columnist Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, KoKo and Yum Yum. The books became perennial New York Times bestsellers, beloved by cat and mystery lovers alike.

The familiar setting for most of the tales took place in a fictional town of Pickax, in Moose County — a town modeled after Bad Axe, Mich., where Mrs. Bettinger and her husband lived until the mid-1980s.

Mrs. Bettinger published the first three novels of the series in the mid-1960s while working at the Detroit Free Press: “The Cat Who Could Read Backwards,” “The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern” and “The Cat Who Turned On and Off” all received critical acclaim.

The budding mystery writer then disappeared from the publishing scene for nearly 20 years.


Lilian Jackson Braun. Braun wrote 29 books in the “The Cat Who” mystery series. (AP/AP)

“They wanted her to introduce sex and violence into her stories,” her husband, Earl Bettinger, recalled, referring to the books’ publishers, “and my wife wouldn’t have any part of that, so she quit writing.”

Mrs. Bettinger began working at the Free Press in about 1950 as the newspaper’s Good Living editor. She wrote about interior design, art and architecture, and reviewed kitchen gadgets and other new household products. She retired in 1978.

With the encouragement of her husband, she resumed writing “The Cat Who . . .” series several years later.

Discussing the sleuthing abilities of her cat KoKo, Mrs. Bettinger once commented, “Of course when you’re writing about a cat solving mysteries, you can’t be entirely serious. He doesn’t speak English or leap tall buildings. But there are things he does that draw attention to clues that help solve the mystery.”

All of her books were written in longhand before she turned them over to a typist. In addition to “The Cat Who . . .” series, Mrs. Bettinger wrote two other books that were collections of short stories.

Lilian Jackson was born June 20, 1913, in Chicopee Falls, Mass. Her first husband, Louis Paul Braun, died in 1969. Survivors include her second husband, of Tryon, N.C.

— Detroit Free Press