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by Lilian Jackson Braun

Putnam, HC $23.95
(release date: January 29, 2001)
Also available in audiocassette (abridged).

Reviewed by Karen Meek

This is the 23rd episode of this long running series, which began in 1966. If you are not familiar with the premise, the "Cat Who" novels feature single millionaire journalist Jim Qwilleran who lives with his Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum. Koko, possessor of a more than average number of whiskers, provides clues, either by design or by coincidence, which steer Qwilleran to solving the various cases that come their way. Qwilleran is also assisted by his moustache which tingles when something's up.

Qwilleran lives in Pickax, Moose County, "400 miles north of everywhere." The books tend to alternate between Qwill's various homes; the apple barn in Pickax itself, his summer cabin on the lake, and the condo in Indian Village, a small complex outside of town. The latter is the setting for this book.

It's October and Moose County is preparing for the snowfall, known as the Big One, which is the official start to winter and leaves everyone snowbound for a few days. Because there has been little to no rain over the summer, the ground is very susceptible to fire. It appears as if someone is determined to burn down the ten historic mine shafthouses, recently honoured by descendants of the original mine owners.

As usual in this series, there are a number of seemingly unconnected happenings; a fire watch volunteer is shot when he tries to prevent arson, the bookshop burns down apparently by accident, some prominent citizens leave town in a hurry, and so on. Only Qwilleran, aided by Koko, can determine the underlying links.

What I like about these books is the sense of continuity and episodic feel, surely helped by the fact that there are two installments a year. The characters' lives aren't static and there are additions and indeed losses to the regular cast. The many threads in this title are drawn together satisfactorily, though I doubt plot is the main reason these books are so popular. I believe these books are so enjoyed because they provide a complete escape and engender a cozy feel in the reader.

Additional titles reviewed in this series include: THE CAT WHO TAILED A THIEF.

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