Friday, February 01, 2013

FFB Review: "MR. MONK IS MISERABLE" by Lee Goldberg---- Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Friday means Friday's Forgotten Books. Barry Ergang is back today kicking off the shortest month of the year. For the complete list of books, authors, and reviewers, please surf over to Evan Lewis' blog titled Davey Crockett's Almanack of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West here ..........

MR. MONK IS MISERABLE (2009) by Lee Goldberg

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

In the previous book in this series of original novels based on the television series "Monk," the obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk learns that Dr. Kroger plans to attend a conference in Germany. The idea of not having his three sessions a week with the doctor is overwhelming to Monk so, as his indispensable assistant Natalie Teeger explains in Mr. Monk is Miserable, "in an act of desperation and insanity that will probably go down in the annals of stalking history, Monk decided to follow his psychiatrist to Germany." This, of course, led to him solving a couple of murders and nearly getting himself and Natalie killed in the process.

Determined to make a real vacation out of the trip, and because Paris, to which she has a sentimental attachment, isn't that far away, Natalie blackmails Monk into making a trip there. The flight is comical for the reader, if not for Natalie and the other passengers—especially the one who is murdered, "It's always murder. Nobody dies of natural causes around Adrian Monk." Monk solves it, of course (in the novels there are always some murders unrelated to the primary one for Monk to solve in passing), and upon landing earns the respect and admiration of Chief Inspector Le Roux and his assistant, Inspector Gadois.

In Paris, Natalie and Monk do a lot of sightseeing, Monk often making a nuisance of himself in the course of things. But he stuns Natalie when he tells her he wants to visit  the city's famous sewers. This is the man who, after all, is "afraid of germs, splinters, coloring books, mixed nuts, lint, curly hair, sleeveless T-shirts, balls of yarn, dust bunnies, Neil Diamond, bird droppings, untucked shirts, granola, Chia Pets, and so many other things that he's created a list of his phobias that spans several leather-bound volumes with footnotes, historical references, photographs, diagrams, and a detailed index." The visit, which is not uneventful, prompts Natalie to take him for a visit to the catacombs beneath the city.

The catacombs have served for several centuries as a crypt for millions of bodies and have become a tourist attraction. Its passageways are lined with walls of different types of bones. It takes an Adrian Monk to spot, amidst thousands of others, the one skull that is out of place because the fillings in its teeth are only a decade or so old. And, of course, the man was murdered. An angry and frustrated Natalie knows her vacation has ended and Monk's has just begun.

Nevertheless, she is determined to participate in more of the many delights Paris has to offer, and to that end makes a dinner reservation at Toujours Nuit, a restaurant she read about back in the States, a restaurant that provides a unique and sensual dining experience she can't tell Monk about in advance lest he refuse to go. Shortly after they are seated, they are joined by a woman named Sandrine who is there unescorted. It is not long before she quietly tells Monk, "I know who you found." It is not long after this that dinner ends with a thunk: Sandrine's lifeless but not knifeless body hitting the floor.

Added to the need to determine the identity of the murder victim from the catacombs and an investigation of the circumstances that led to his death, suddenly Adrian Monk has an impossible murder, complete with locked-room conundrum, on his hands.

What makes it impossible? About this and other story factors I've been deliberately vague so as not to spoil the experience for readers. I must add, however, that any veteran reader/viewer of mystery/suspense/thriller stories will know immediately how one aspect of the "impossibility" was effected and thus subsequently have no trouble identifying the culprit the moment a particular item is mentioned. In this regard the book is no competition for the bafflers of John Dickson Carr, Hake Talbot, Clayton Rawson or Edward D. Hoch, among others.

Readers who are detective story purists, as well as those who are not fans of or who have never seen the television series, might complain, and not unjustly, that there are too many "travelogue" passages in Mr. Monk is Miserable that slow the story and detract from the investigative portions. Since I have always loved the program and have enjoyed the previous books in the series, I barreled through this one, occasionally chuckling out loud at Monk's antics, of which there are many, and did not find the aforementioned passages objectionable.

As usual, Lee Goldberg does an outstanding job of capturing the voices and intonations of the recurrent characters. I can hear Traylor Howard as Natalie in both narrative and dialogue, and in dialogue Tony Shaloub as Monk, Ted Levine as Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, and Jason Gray-Stanford as Lieutenant Randy Disher. 

It is far from the best in the series, but I give Goldberg points for attempting a less-than-stellar impossible crime story while providing a mystery that can stand alongside some of the works of Jonathan Latimer, Craig Rice, and Donald E. Westlake for its comedic value.

Barry Ergang ©2013

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