The Mouse in the Mountain

The Mouse in the Mountain



The Pequod Review:

Norbert Davis's detective novel The Mouse in the Mountain strikes an entirely unique mix of tones — comedy, adventure, suspense and hardboiled fiction — as it traces the adventures of Doan (a hard-drinking and overweight private investigator) and Carstairs (his well-mannered Great Dane). Doan and Carstairs embark on a bus trip to Mexico to track down a wayward informer but their assignment is interrupted by various absurdities along the way. Davis has a lot of fun with his settings; here for example he introduces the Mexican village (Los Altos) where most of the story takes place:

In Los Altos, there had been a rumor going the rounds that some rich tourists from the United States who were staying at the Hotel Azteca outside Mazalar were going to make a bus trip up to Los Altos. It was obvious, of course, that this rumor wasn’t entirely to be trusted. Anyone with any brains or a radio knew that the people from the United States were too busy raising hell up and down the world to look at scenery except through a bombsight.

But tourists of any brand had been so remarkably scarce of late that the mere hint of their impending arrival was enough to touch off a sort of impromptu fiesta. The inhabitants of Los Altos shook the mothballs out of their serapes, mantillas, rebozas and similar bric-a-brac and prepared to look colorful at the drop of a sombrero. They gathered in the market place with their pigs and chickens and burros and dogs and children, and slept, argued, bellowed, squealed, cackled or urinated on the age-old pavement according to their various natural urges.

All this was very boring to a man who, for the time being, was named Garcia. He sat and drank beer the general color and consistency of warm vinegar, and glowered. He had a thin, yellowish face and a straggling black mustache, and he was cross-eyed. He should really have been more interested in the tourists coming across from the Hotel Azteca, because in a short time one of them was going to shoot him dead. However, he didn't know that, and had you told him he would have laughed or spat in your eye or perhaps both. He was a bad man.

And Doan reveals himself to be an honest but not entirely likeable detective:

Janet relaxed again and sighed contentedly. "I can't believe I'm here and that this is really happening. It's much more wonderful even than I'd dreamed it would be. I've just got to talk to somebody. Can I tell you about it?"

"On one condition," said Doan. "And that is that you don't confess any crimes. Just because I'm a detective people are always taking advantage of me and confessing. You can't imagine how boring that is."

Janet looked at him. "Why, I should think you'd want people to confess to you. It would save so much time."

"That's the point," Doan told her. "I don't want to save time. I get paid by the week. The longer a job takes, the more I make. I always try to stretch them out, but it's pretty hard to do. Take the last one I was on, for instance. A clerk embezzled fifty grand or so from a loan company. No sooner did I walk in the joint and ask him his name than he started to confess."

"What did you do, then?" Janet asked, fascinated.

"Shut him up, of course, and went around making like I was looking for clues. But the guy wouldn't drop it. He haunted me. Every time I sat down to rest my feet, he started confessing all over again. It got so obvious I had to arrest him."

"Well, is that—ethical? I mean to—to stall around like you did?

"Is it what?" Doan said.


"I'm a detective," said Doan. "A private detective."

"Don't private detectives have ethics?"

"I don't know," Doan answered, frowning. "I never thought about it. I'll have to look the matter up sometime."

This is a very fun novel; recommended.