Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characterization and fun mysteries
Cons: Writing occasionally stiff
The Bottom Line:
The doctor is back
Diagnosis: Murder fans
Will be thrilled with book
The Doctor is in - Again
The Silent Partner is the first of eight novels based on the TV series Diagnosis: Murder. The series starred Dick van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan, a doctor who also had a gift for solving murders. Each week, he teamed up with his son Steve Sloan (played by Dick's son Barry) to solve crime. Assisting them throughout the run of the show was Amanda Bentley (played by Victoria Rowell), a coroner. The first two years of the show, the cast was rounded out by Jack Stewart, as played by Scott Baio. When Scott decided to leave the show, he was replaced by Charlie Schlatter, who would play Dr. Jesse Travis for the remainder of the eight year run.
Lee Goldberg, who wrote this tie in novel, was a writer and executive producer on the show for a number of years. That background shows itself all over. There are countless references to episodes of the show. Yet, even if you haven't seen the show, you'll be able to follow everything that happens here. Of course, Lee has some fun doing things he couldn't do on the TV show, like bringing Jack back for a visit.
When LAPD chief John Masters approaches Mark Sloan about serving on a committee to look into unsolved crimes, Mark is surprised. Sure, he has a great reputation for solving homicides, but it's something of an embarrassment to the department. Still, Mark is eager to look into these old cases and try to find someone who got away with murder. A chance misfiling takes Mark on a different direction, however. He's convinced that one victim of a convicted serial killer was really murdered by a copycat who's still free. Striking out on his own, he begins to gather more evidence. The media are quick to pick up on his investigation, dubbing this new killer "The Silent Partner." Is Mark right? Can he find the killer?
Meanwhile, Jack Stewart is back to perform a kidney transplant on one of Mark's patience, stirring up old feelings of betrayal in the tight nit group. It's especially hard for Jesse, who was finally beginning to feel free of Jack's shadow. Why exactly did Jack vanish with hardly a goodbye? And what will happen when the transplant goes horribly wrong?
To be honest, this book feels exactly like an extended episode of the show. You've even got the A and B stories. That's not a bad thing. Both storylines are engaging and kept me turning pages later then I intended on more then one occasion to find out what would happen next. While the solution is obvious before the climax, finding out how Mark would prove it kept the pages turning just as quickly.
Then there are the characters. They are perfectly captured. In fact, I could hear the actors saying their lines without any effort whatsoever. The series always had a dose of humor, and that's captured here with some of the character's interactions. They were quite funny. In later books, Mr. Goldberg focused more on Mark Sloan, but in this book, he gives all the characters equal page time. Since I always loved the ensemble of the show, I'm not complaining. The new characters are equally interesting and add to the story.
The only weakness here is the narration. Notice I didn't say the writing. The dialog and action scenes are great. But the author takes the opportunity a novel provides to flesh out the characters, delving into their feelings and motivations. Most of those scenes come off as stiff and a little forced. This is something that smoothes itself out and the series progresses. And the good news is these moments don't make up much of the book, so it's a minor issue overall.