Following the clues in the 29 Cat Who books
Where do Koko, Qwill, and Yum Yum live? If you are familiar with The Cat Who series of 29 cozy mystery books (1966-2007), then you recognize these names. I first was introduced to this delightful set of books when I received number one in the series in paperback, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, as a gift in the late 1990s. The clothing, scenes, and vernacular were dated but just seemed to make the story even more endearing. If you want to know what it was like to be a journalist in a mid-western city in the 1960s, I highly recommend this one and the next three.
As charming as the first four stories were, introducing Koko, the prescient cat, in the first book and Yum Yum, the paw, in the second book, the locale changes dramatically in book 5. Our two smarter-than-your-average-cat Siamese are James Qwilleran’s constant companions and they follow him to new adventures north, “400 miles from anywhere.”
Qwill, as his friends call him, inherits a vast estate with the provision that he stay in Moose County for five years. This repressed backwoods community needs Qwill and his billions, and as someone who had traveled with just a suitcase for most of his adult life, having so much wealth is just uncomfortable for him. The foundation he sets up brings renewed life to the citizens of Pickax and surrounding towns. The next 25 books in the series follow Qwill’s adventures as he endears himself to his new home, making friends who become our friends too along the way.
There are many clues in the books as to the location of Pickax, the county seat of Moose County. Part of Qwill’s inheritance includes a piece of strip farm property in town with a large mansion facing the town square, an octagonal barn behind, and a cabin thirty miles north near the lakeside resort town of Mooseville. The cities and towns mentioned throughout the books are intriguingly similar to names on Michigan’s “thumb.” One might even think this is the actual location (only the names have been changed) when it’s observed that Qwill’s lakeside cabin looks across the lake to Canada, 100 miles to the north.
Let’s compare names:
- Bad Axe vs Pickax
- Caseville vs Mooseville
- Ubly vs Ugley
- Grindstone City vs Boulder City
- Port Austin vs Purple Point
However, I contend that, although the names and geographic locations to each other are eerily similar, I believe that Qwill’s home is actually on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Clues in the stories are most evident whenever there is talk of flying “down below” and various plane changes and routes are discussed. It appears that you have to fly to Minneapolis and then to Chicago to get back to the former mid-west city where Qwill came from.
There is one other clue, easily missed if you aren’t seeking answers to location. Qwill mentions in one story that sometimes the cartographers actually leave them off the USA maps entirely, thinking they are part of Canada.
Some clues from the stories about the town that employs Qwill before he inherits his billions can be gleaned from information on the paper he works for, The Daily Fluxion. It has a population of 427,000. It’s describe as a midwest paper and Chicago, New York, and Milwaukee must be eliminated because they are mentioned in the stories as being “other cities.” In book 4, it’s also pointed out that it’s not in Ohio, leaving out Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. Cincinnati had been my choice for the Fluxion’s home town until these other clues were revealed. That being said, I’m currently going with Fort Wayne or Indianapolis.
Clues, dropped like bread crumbs, throughout books 5-29 tell us the following:
- Pickax City is a 400 mile drive from The Fluxion’s home town
- It’s on the way to Toronto (Qwill’s girlfriend at the time drives up to visit and then continues to Toronto for a business deal, thus severing their relationship)
- It’s mining country, with defunct mines, slag heaps, shaft houses, and the architecture of many Pickax buildings featuring granite boulders (you will see this is evident throughout the Upper Peninsula on current maps)
- The lake is 30 miles north of Pickax and Mooseville is 3 more miles after turning left at the lake
- The population of Pickax is 3,000
There’s much more but this is a start in our detective work to determine the locale of that octagonal converted barn that houses our two favorite felines and their mustachioed owner. Lilian Jackson Braun must have spent lots of vacation time in Huron County, Michigan. The clues abound and it’s obvious that she had many fond memories of this area.
One of the goal’s on my bucket list is to be able to spend a summer in Pickax and Caseville and soak up the ambiance as I re-read my 29 Cat Who books.