I've been a fan of the Cat Who series for about twelve years now; I own quite a few of the earlier volumes, and have read every one of them, first to last. Recently, I've been rereading my copies--so I was particularly thrilled to spot _Cat Who Brought Down the House_ in my library, and I snatched it up with an enthusiasm that I might not have had if I'd been rereading the *later* books in the series and thus remembered their severe dip in quality. Unfortunately, this book served as quite the refresher course for my memory.
I realize that the focus of the series has changed somewhat over the years, and that I shouldn't expect a tight, suspenseful whodunnit; my quibble with the book thus isn't really its lack of a sound mystery. (As with other recent installments, the mystery plot is very, very secondary to scenes and anecdotes about life in Moose County.) What I have problems with is how *pointless* it all felt--not to mention how different Qwill and various other characters seemed from their old selves of even a few books ago, and how many of the characters in this book are relative newcomers to the series and in no way as engaging (IMHO) as the Old Guard. The plot meandered here and there, not so much hard to follow as hard to stay interested in; and Qwilleran himself seemed almost unrecognizable. Since when does he let everyone and their dog--literally!--into his home, when he once resented people wishing to come gawk? Why would he become the special chum of Thelma Thackeray and spend so much time with her? And speaking of which, why was it that in the beginning of the book no one seemed to know who Thelma was or whether she was even real, while in later chapters everyone Qwill talked to had something to say about her brother, her father, and her family history? That sort of continuity error seems sloppy.
And speaking of sloppiness, I question whether an editor even glanced at this novel. Twice I found quotation marks where they had no business being--such as in the middle of a dialogue sentence, as if the author had forgotten the character was already speaking. Qwill's name is even misspelled once! Meanwhile, there are a lot of little throwaway scenes that never amount to anything and aren't interesting enough to add character or flavor to the narrative (Burgess describing in detail the party that the kids on Pleasant Street will be having comes to mind); I found myself wondering in bemusement how this or that scene would later become relevant... and it never did. The book might have benefited from having an editor more inclined to use his or her pruning shears.
Finally, it's hard to imagine how this book contributes anything of lasting value to the series given how everything turns out. (I can't say much more without spoiling the ending, but anyone who's read it through should know what I mean.) I felt empty after reading it. Granted, 'empty' is a better way to feel than 'completely disgusted,' which is how I felt after _Cat Who Saw Stars_, but given that I used to put down a newly-finished Cat Who book with reluctance because I didn't want to leave Qwill's vivid, lovingly-crafted world, I can't help but be saddened by this development.
Now that I've said all that, is there anything *good* about this book? Well, yes... sort of. Maybe. It depends on what you're looking for. Do you just want something light and quick to read, with a couple of engaging characters and a lot of mentions of delicious-sounding foods? Then you might be fine with this. It's nice, it's light, it's fluffy, and there's nothing wrong with that--so long as you go into it knowing what to expect. Personally, I just can't recommend that anyone make this their first Cat Who novel (_Cat Who Could Read Backwards_ would be my recommendation there) or buy it in hardback. I'm not sure I'd even suggest buying it in paperback, at least not without trying to find it at your library first.