Friday, March 24, 2017

FFB Review: MR. MONK IN TROUBLE (2009) by Lee Goldberg--- Reviewed by Barry Ergang

It has been about a month, but Barry is back today with another all new FFB review. In addition to having a review from Barry this week, it also means you are spared another repeat review from me. Continue with the good news by making sure you check out the full list of reading suggestions over at Patti’s blog.

MR. MONK IN TROUBLE (2009) by Lee Goldberg
Reviewed by Barry Ergang

“This is about a friend of mine, Manny Feikema,” Captain Leland Stottlemeyer of the San Francisco Police Department tells Adrian Monk and his assistant (and the novel’s narrator), Natalie Teeger. “He retired about five years ago and moved to Trouble, a tiny old mining town in the California gold country. Manny got bored after only a couple of months, so he signed up as a security guard at the history museum they have there…He was killed two nights ago while doing his rounds.”

Stottlemeyer wants Monk, a former homicide cop and current departmental consultant, to go to Trouble to track down Manny’s killer because he’s out of vacation days and can’t go himself. The local police department is miniscule and “they don’t have the experience or the resources to solve a murder,” Stottlemeyer explains. A fear of tumbleweeds causes the obsessive-compulsive and germaphobic Monk to decline the request until Natalie persuades him that she’ll protect him.

Trouble is one of many towns that sprang up after the California gold rush of 1849, and Natalie tells readers that “It was just as if we’d driven through a time warp and arrived in the 1850s.” Monk, as fans of the television series and readers of earlier books in the books based on it can imagine, is not thrilled at the prospect of contending with a town in which, among other things, burros roam freely.

Mr. Monk in Trouble is a “twofer” of a novel, because in addition to Adrian Monk’s sleuthing, readers are provided with sections from Abigail Guthrie’s journal dating from 1855. She and her husband Hank left their hardscrabble Kansas farm in 1852 after Hank learned about the gold rush. They settled in Trouble because it was the first mining town they came to, and the life there was at least as rigorous, if not more so, than it was in Kansas. “…(W)e rarely panned more than six dollars a day worth of color, roughly six pinches of gold dust, and with molasses at one dollar a bottle and flour going for fifty cents a pound, we could barely keep ourselves fed.” The work and, ultimately, illness took their tolls on Hank, and he died before reaching the age of twenty-five. Abigail thus had to figure out how to survive on her own, and wound up working for the town’s only assayer, a “peculiar and extraordinary man who valued cleanliness and order above all else.” His name was Artemis Monk, and in addition to assaying, he also helped the town’s sheriff with criminal investigations. 

At Trouble’s historical museum, Adrian Monk learns of another crime: the never-solved robbery in 1962 of over $100,000 in gold coins from the Golden Rail Express, the locomotive from which now resides in the museum. For years, people have searched for the stolen coins, but none have ever turned up. Although he’s there to solve Manny Feikema’s murder, Monk becomes obsessed with the robbery and its attendant mysteries.

As with other books in this series, in addition to solving the primary puzzles, Adrian Monk solves a number of incidental ones. Similarly, the reader is treated via Abigail’s journal to multiple mysteries solved by Artemis Monk, among them the robbery of the Golden Rail Express in 1856.

I’ve read all of the preceding books in this series, and I have to rank Mr. Monk in Trouble as one of the best. In addition to entertaining the reader with multiple mysteries, it’s loaded with wonderful humor, much of it in the conversations the two Monks have with their assistants and others. Readers familiar with contemporary crime writers will notice that author Lee Goldberg has some fun with a few characters’ names.

Those who liked the original TV programs should definitely enjoy this novel. Those who have never seen the TV series but who enjoy well-paced comical detective stories should enjoy it, too. Highly recommended. 

© 2017 Barry Ergang
Some of Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s work is available at Smashwords and Amazon.

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