Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: Mr. Monk Goes to Germany by Lee Goldberg (Monk #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Emotionally complex story
Cons: Slow first half
Bottom Line:
Dif'rent continent
But Monk never changes.  He'd
Freak out if he did

Mr. Monk, Stalker

When a TV character makes the leap to tie-in novels, there are pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the book's author can open up the universe to include settings and storylines that would never work on the TV show. Lee Goldberg has done that several times in the Monk novels, and he does it again with the sixth one, Mr. Monk Goes to Germany.

For those who aren't familiar with the TV show, Adrian Monk is a former homicide detective with the San Francisco police department. He was the top detective until his wife was murdered. Once that happened, his phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder overcame his life. Now, he consults on their most bizarre cases, aided by his assistant Natalie Teeger.

As this book opens, things are actually going well for Mr. Monk recently. He's finding a groove and solving cases faster than ever. But then a cannibal moves into Monk's building. While he's in the middle of dealing with that crisis, Dr. Kroger, Monk's psychiatrist, announces that he is taking a week's vacation to attend a conference in Germany. Despite a half hearted attempt at staying, Monk falls apart and decides he needs to follow Dr. Kroger to Germany. After all, he hasn't missed an appointment yet.

Dragging Natalie along, he arrives in Lohr, Germany, only to realize just how foreign it is. His biggest concern seems to be a very angry Dr. Kroger who doesn't like having his vacation interrupted.

But things that an unexpected turn when Monk spots a sight across the town square that stops him cold. Suddenly, this vacation has turned into a very personal mystery for Monk. Can he contend with the difference and still find the truth?

Now the Monks in the fandom will immediately notice some differences between this book and the about to launch season seven of the show. That's because a book takes quite a bit of time from the writing to the publishing stages and can't account for real life or current show continuity. But Mr. Goldberg explains how this book fits into the TV series in the author's note. Be sure you read that.

As is always the case with these books, the characters are captured perfectly. They are richer and deeper than the characters on the TV show, which is natural since a book is longer than a one hour show. While we've already seen this applied to Natalie and Monk, this is the first time that Dr. Kroger has been given more than a brief scene in the series. He makes the transition quite well, and I could picture the late Stanley Kamel delivering the lines. Naturally, series regulars Stottlemeyer and Disher aren't in much of the novel, but this book resurrects a gag from the TV series, so you don't miss them too much. The few new characters are interesting and as well rounded as they can be considering how few pages they really get.

My only complaint with the novel is the pace of the story. It takes too long to set things up. I know that we had to get Monk to Germany somehow, but surely something along the way could have been cut. Don't misunderstand, it is entertaining and therefore worth reading. But a little less of it would have been better.

Once Monk arrives, however, things pick up quickly. The journey is emotional for everyone involved, which is sure to captivate the loyal fans. And this part moves quickly, with every scene being important. I was completely hooked here and racing through the story to find out how things would end.

The book does a good job of balancing the serious moments with the funny. And there are plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud. I especially enjoyed reading Monk's take on the classic fairytale Snow White, which was set in the forests around Lohr.

As always, the writing is crisp. Natalie's first person narration adds a layer of humor to the story. I fairly flew through the book.

For fans who are willing to forgive the difference between book and TV production schedules, Mr. Monk Goes to Germany is another treat. So buy your ticket today and enjoy a European vacation Monk style.

Interested in reading more?  Since this is Monk, you'll have to read the Monk Novels in order.

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