Moose County journalist and philanthropist James Qwilleran, better known to fans of Lilian Jackson Braun's evergreen series of feline-inspired thrillers as the owner of a couple of remarkably prescient Siamese cats named Koko and Yum Yum, is comfortably ensconced in his winter residence in Pickax at the beginning of The Cat Who Smelled a Rat. But he and the other citizens start hoping for snow when a series of arson fires threaten their safety as well as the historically significant shafthouses that sit atop the long-closed mine sites scattered throughout the county.
Qwilleran and his pets take quite a while to connect the fires with the death of a local builder in a seemingly unrelated accident. But his leisurely jaunt to the conclusion of this lightly plotted adventure leaves plenty of room for the author to do what she does best, which is sketching the picaresque characters who people Pickax and dwelling on the small-town charms of a place where everybody knows everything about everybody. The cats are quicker to solve a crime than the local constabulary. Only Koko could find the clues hidden in an antique pitcher and an old-fashioned glove box, and only a cat lover could consider this a mystery or even a romance. There's no suspense, very little drama, hardly any blood, and not even a hint of sex between Qwilleran and his lady. But Braun's fans are legion, so we know she must be doing something right. --Jane Adams