Thursday, September 01, 2011

BOOKS: Mr. Monk On The Couch by Lee Goldberg

Yes, I know Review Month is behind me (and writing 31 reviews without making them all cookie cutter examples of effusive praise is harder than it looks). But I did sort of screw up one review, Lee Goldberg's The Walk. So, to make up for the faux pas, I offer a bonus review of yet another five star book. Also written by Goldberg.

If Mr. Monk On The Couch had been a script for the long running Monk TV series, it might have been what they call a backdoor pilot script. For a spin-off. In this case, for Natalie Teeger, P.I.

Goldberg is relishing the freedom, the end of the TV series has afforded him. That's obvious. It's odd to refer to this book being Natalie-centric, when in fact, she narrates every book and it's her voice in your head all the time. But in the previous 11 books in the series, that voice was talking about Monk most of the time.

Natalie takes on a case of her own after she and Monk attend a prospective murder scene and determine, against the odds, that the deceased died of natural causes. This ends the entertaining puzzle part for Monk. And despite Monk's derision, Natalie picks up the pieces of the dead man's life and finds herself playing amateur sleuth.

Although Monk doesn't want to be involved, she does get help from Captain Stottlemeyer and from an unexpected source. Monk's brother Ambrose is a big help, as is his live-in girlfriend slash assistant Yuki. Introduced last book as the assistant to dying writer Dub Clemens, Yuki is an irritant to Adrian Monk, being, in his words, "An ex-con motorcycle mama." And that's without him even knowing about her tattoo (or is it tattoos?). Adrian feels he's lost his brother to this evil conniving temptress to the dark side.

Which makes this a return of sorts to the old Adrian Monk. I'm not that much in favour of the U-turn. I like the new Adrian from the last book, one less completely and utterly self-absorbed and one who showed interest in the happiness of others. Other than an insightful exchange in a session at Dr. Bell's that includes Natalie, Monk is Monk, as we have known him. Too bad.

On the other hand, Natalie shows spunk and initiative throughout the book in getting to the mystery behind the man's life. She uses her resources (Leeland, Ambrose and Yuki) and even comes up with bits and pieces herself. She gets the big reveal moment near the end of the book that Monk can't anticipate. And discovers that not all puzzle-solving has a triumphant finish.

As they say in the late-night infomercials, but wait, there's more. While Natalie's doing her P.I. with training wheels thing, there are other murders for Adrian Monk to solve. And solve them he does. Only to have a suit from upstairs at the Police Department invalidate his solutions because he doesn't have proof he's right. Knowing who and how a bunch of murders happened turns out frustratingly inconclusive, a "Here's what happened" moment without the payoff/conviction.

Until Natalie and Detective Amy Devlin rescue the case by thinking, and working, outside the box. We see Natalie working 'undercover' for the first time. And I bet you it won't be the last time.

The question posed in the book is, what would happen to Natalie if something happened to Monk? She might go back to her rich family. But not now. We know the answer.

Natalie Teeger, P.I.

1 comment:

Lee Goldberg said...

Thanks for the great review, Gary! I have been having a lot of fun with the last few MONK books. Then again, they've all been fun. But it's true, since the TV series ended, I've been taking a few more chances. MR. MONK O PATROL, coming in January, definitely builds on MR. MONK ON THE COUCH. And the one I am writing now, MR. MONK IS A MESS, is a direct sequel to PATROL (in much the same way that MR. MONK IS MISERABLE was a direct sequel to MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY).