Cover image of "The Mouse That Roared" by Leonard Wibberley, a novel about nuclear madness

Maybe it’s a mistake to reread books I loved as a kid. Recently, I’ve done that with several—and found myself disappointed. Just now I’ve had a similar (if less extreme) experience with a 1955 bestseller about nuclear madness, The Mouse That Roared, by the Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley.

The book was the first in a series of five comic novels, but it made a bigger splash four years later when Peter Sellers starred in a popular film adaptation of the same name. And that may be the problem I had in reading the book: I kept seeing Sellers’ face on several of the key characters in the story. (He played multiple characters in the film. More famously, Sellers was Chief Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films.) I remember having laughed hysterically when I read the book at the age of 14 or so. But Sellers overacted as usual, and the film was less satisfying.

Nestled in the Alps . . .

Here’s the story . . . Nestled in the Alps is a diminutive principality known as the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. Its 6,000 people live in portions of three valleys that together are five miles long and three miles wide. Founded in 1370 by a small group of English knights who broke away from the army they were serving, the Duchy has been independent ever since. Its sole source of income is the sale of Pinot Grand Fenwick, a wine that is prized by connoisseurs throughout the world.

Unfortunately, a winery in California is now marketing an inferior wine called Pinot Grand Enwick, using a label that is otherwise identical to that of the real thing. So, the livelihood of the people of the Duchy is now threatened—and the only way the 22-year-old Duchess and her advisers can see to put a stop to the ripoff and raise more revenue is . . . get this . . .  to declare war on the United States and lose. Since the US is always generous with the nations it vanquishes, the Duchess figures they’ll come out ahead.

The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley ★★★★☆

Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t take the Duchy’s declaration of war seriously—until the little country’s two-dozen-man expeditionary force invades New York City. In fact, it’s only several days later, once the Fenwickians have kidnapped the nation’s top nuclear scientist, the four-star general who heads US civil defense, and four New York City cops, that the US government even figures out it’s at war. And to the chagrin of the Duchess and her advisers, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick didn’t lose. It won.

So it goes.

If you’re interested in a more recent comic novel that’s funnier as well as more timely, look to Carl Hiaasen or Christopher Buckley. Hiaasen’s Razor Girl is reviewed at Reality TV, African rodents, the roach patrol. My review of The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley is An irreligious take on Catholic history.  I found both books hilarious, as I did others that both authors have written.

You might also be interested in My 10 favorite funny novels or Top 10 great popular novels.

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