As the book opens newspaperman Jim Qwilleran is sitting in the Press Club stunned by the devastating news he has just received from his doctor. He stares in horror and disbelief at the green sheet of paper in his hands: the strict diet Doc Beane has just ordered him to start to help him lose thirty pounds. It’s the basic diet, if it tastes good you can’t have it, and if it tastes horrible you can eat all you want of it (perhaps more since you don’t really want to eat it in the first place).
Back at Qwill’s newspaper the managing editor has a new assignment for the former prize-winning crime reporter. Jim Qwilleran will now be writing a regular column on the enjoyment of good food and wine. The reporter reminds the editor that he has been on the wagon for two years and then informs him that he has just been put on a strict diet. Supportive as ever the editor expresses confidence in Qwill’s ability, and does not change the temptation-fraught assignment.
Qwill’s friend Mary Duckworth arranges for Qwill to dine at Maus Haus to learn more about gourmet cuisine. Attorney Robert Maus, who is a chef at heart, owns the large rambling building that had been an art studio owned by his late wife’s family at one time. Behind the main house is a pottery building complete with wheels, kilns, and facilities for making clay. Robert Maus inherited the place and is obliged to rent at least some of the apartments in the building to artists and art students. With the consent of his lawyers the terms of the will have been expanded to include people in the culinary arts as well. There is an interesting and eclectic group of people renting lavish apartments at Maus Haus, and it is an excellent place to learn more about haute cuisine.
When Qwill arrives for dinner he is surprised to see Joy Wheatly, a woman he had come very close to marrying years earlier, until she suddenly disappeared. Joy is now a professional potter and married to a selfish bully. Joy shows Qwill an empty apartment at Maus Haus, and he decides to rent it, partly because he is impressed with it, but mostly because Joy is still beautiful and vivacious.
Qwill and the cats are quite happy in their new home. Joy adores Koko and Yum Yum, but they make her miss her own cat who has recently disappeared. Joy confides in Qwill that her marriage is miserable, but she doesn’t have money to start divorce proceedings. Qwill writes her a check for $750. It is the last time he sees Joy, ever.
No one seems troubled by Joy’s disappearance but Qwill and a couple of other tenants who think it’s odd because Joy had a show coming up and she needed to prepare to display her pottery. The last time she saw Qwill she told him about an exciting new glaze she’d developed that was going to cause quite a sensation.
The glaze does impress people, especially the critics, although the pots themselves are not that impressive. The critics and artists are particularly amazed by the red glaze because it is so difficult to create.
One of the unusual and extremely valuable red pots is given to Qwill as a present, and partly because the check he had written to Joy had been altered to $1750 instead of $750, and had been cashed by someone else, and it is hoped that the pot will help smooth things over. It does anything but.
Koko hates the red pot immediately and hisses at it. Koko’s reaction along with other clues he provides, point Qwill toward the truth. When he reads about how a potter in Ancient China produced pots with a red color he realizes why he will never find the proof he needs to bring Joy’s murderer to justice, and why her body has not been found. He smashes the red pot in a disgusted rage.
Later that night, when the thief and murderer comes to Qwill’s apartment for the valuable red pot and to silence Qwill forever, he is stopped in his tracks by a trap laid out for him by Yum Yum and Koko.
The cats are entertaining, as always. In an effort to economize Qwill actually feeds them (gasp) CAT FOOD!!Naturally they communicate their dissatisfaction, and Qwill repents immediately. For some reason it is fun for cat lovers to read about other people being bossed around by their feline companions.
The Cat Who Saw Red provides the reader with some fascinating insights into the world of art, and particularly pottery, as well as haute cuisine as Ms. Braun weaves a tangled web of mystery for Jim Qwilleran to untangle, with a little help from his friends, of course.