Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Mouse in the Mountain (e-book) by Norbert Davis

The Mouse in the Mountain is a hard-boiled detective novel. It came out to 110 pages on my Nook Simple Touch and can be read for free via ManyBooks.


This was originally published in 1943, and I downloaded it almost entirely because of the Great Dane on the cover. I should have investigated it a little more closely – I went into it expecting something like a cozy mystery about a guy and his dog, and I got a deceptively harmless-looking detective who had zero issues with killing people and who lied 99% of the time.

The beginning of the book fit in nicely with what I thought it was. Doan was a slightly pudgy, harmless-looking detective who happened to be vacationing in Mexico with Carstairs, his Great Dane. Carstairs was highly intelligent and not nearly as badly behaved as Doan kept insisting he was. I'm more of a cat person, but I imagine that fans of large breed dogs would be amused by Doan's efforts to ensure that Carstairs would be allowed on the tour bus to Los Altos.

Doan's fellow tourists included: Mr. and Mrs. Henshaw; Mortimer, their annoying little snot of a son; Janet, a schoolteacher hoping to see the same places as her historical crush, Lieutenant Emile Perona; Patricia Van Osdel, an heiress; Maria, Patricia's maid; and Greg, Patricia's boyfriend (?). I realized that this was not going to be a cozy mystery when the tour bus made it to Los Altos and one of the first things Doan did was casually shoot a guy. Granted, the guy had a gun, but his utter calm and complete lack of hesitation were still somewhat off-putting. Then Mortimer, the nasty little monster, described the wound in great deal and probably would have poked the body with a stick if his mom hadn't dragged him away. I really hated Mortimer.

It wasn't long before Doan demonstrated that all his talk about being on vacation was an utter lie. He had a particular person he'd been hired to talk to. Then an earthquake hit and, in the chaos of the aftermath, several people were discovered to be dead or wounded under suspicious circumstances. Captain Perona (yes, related to the Lieutenant Emile Perona Janet had a crush on) immediately suspected Doan because he knew Doan's reputation for being more dangerous than he looked.

There were a lot of characters, and I only cared about a small number of them, which made it a little hard to keep everyone straight. Janet and Captain Perona were probably my favorite out of the whole bunch, especially when they were talking to each other. Janet was book smart but street stupid, and she simply could not believe that someone as pleasant as Doan might not be a nice and trustworthy guy. Captain Perona was frustrated with her naivete (so was I, especially after she basically handed herself to the villain) but admired her love of the local history and her ability to read his ancestor's diary, which even he hadn't been able to decipher. If Perona had phrased his interest in Janet differently (he basically said, “You're stupid but pretty, so I might want to marry you”), I might have rooted for them as a couple more.

The overall story didn't really interest me all that much. I think the only thing that kept me going was the flashes of humor, particularly during parts with Doan or Perona. Perona's open disdain for all things American was fun. For example:
"'He knows all about young ladies from the United States, because be went to school there.' 
'Where?" Janet demanded. "What school?"

'A place called Harvard. It was very unfortunate, but we could do nothing about it,'

'Unfortunate?' Janet repeated. 'Why?'

'He is the third son, you see, and we could not afford to give him a good education.'

'Good... Why, Harvard is one of the finest universities in the United States!'

'As you say--in the United States.'" (86)
All in all, I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. I think it just wasn't a great fit for me. Doan was too much of a “gray area” guy for my tastes, and I couldn't work up enough interest in most of the other characters to care about the large number of them that were being killed or wounded. I don't know that I'll be reading the next book in the series.

  • Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - Fans of Davis's book who don't mind trying something a few decades newer might want to give this a shot. It's urban fantasy, but Harry Dresden would probably get along well with old school hard-boiled detectives.
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett - I'll preface this by saying that I haven't read anything by Hammett yet. However, his name came up as I was looking of hard-boiled detective stories that include a good dose of humor.

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