Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: Mr. Monk in Outer Space by Lee Goldberg (Monk #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of humor and a decent plot
Cons: Some mostly minor character issues
Bottom Line:
Murder at a con
With plenty of distractions
Means more fun for us

Mr. Monk and the Obsessed Fans

Mr. Monk in Outer Space is Adrian Monk's fifth outing in novel form. The character is best known from the TV show Monk starring Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub. Monk is a former member of the San Francisco police department who had to leave when his obsessive compulsive disorder became too much for him to handle. They do still call him in when they face a case they can't solve, however.

Which is why Monk's assistant Natalie wonders why they've been called to a hotel right next to the airport. On the surface, everything about the case seems ordinary. The man was shot outside a hotel. In fact, the assassin was captured on four different security cameras. So why was Monk consulted? Because the victim was Conrad Stipe, creator of the cult 70's TV show Beyond Earth. And the assassin was dressed as one of the aliens from the show.

To further complicate matters, Stipe was shot right outside a fan convention for his show. This means people wearing that costume are more normal then those dressed in regular clothes. Captain Stottlemeyer is hoping Monk's attention to detail will help them find the one fan that did it.

However, Monk is unnerved by the costumes everyone is wearing. The alien costumes are elaborate and unnatural. The killer had a giant elephant trunk. Some aliens have their intestines on the outside. Monk just can't see how anyone would willing become devoted to something so unnatural.

And then he finds out his brother Ambrose is a devoted fan of the series.

Who shot Conrad Stipe? What clues does the costume provide? And will Monk ever look at Ambrose the same way again?

I must admit I was a little apprehensive picking this book up. While the subject of out of control fandom is ripe for comedy, would author Lee Goldberg go too far? I need not have worried. He found the humor in fandom without mocking fans. Well, there are the exceptions, like the fan who only speaks in a fictional language. But this isn't a skewering of all fans. And he shines the same light on TV producers as well. I especially loved a proposal one of them made for turning Monk's life into a TV show.

As with the real TV show, the book is full of humor. I laughed the entire way through the book. Monk is at his absolute best while dealing with ordinary things, like the horrors of revolving doors or 7 Up. (I don't think I will ever look at that soft drink the same way again.) And the Beyond Earth fans provide plenty of humor of their own.

I will admit I had pieces of the plot figured out before Monk. Or at least before Monk appeared to know what was going on. Maybe it's because I've read enough of Mr. Goldberg's books to get his plotting style down. That hardly matters because, like the TV show, getting there is half the fun. Beside, I missed most of the details and even got a few things wrong. The story kept moving forward quickly, so even when I was right, it didn't take long for Monk to catch up.

My biggest disappointment was in the characterization. At times I felt that Monk became more caricature then character, a charge I have leveled against the TV show a time or two as well. Several times, suspects were given something unusual just so it could drive Monk crazy. But these somethings were so bazaar it felt overdone to me. Additionally, the Natalie of the book is involved in a relationship I don't see the Natalie of the TV series pursuing.

Now before this sounds like I don't like the characters, let me set the record straight. These are mostly minor issues. Over the course of the book series, Mr. Goldberg has managed to give the familiar characters more depth and humanity then in the TV show, and this one is no exception. The quieter moments between Monk and one or two of the regulars are wonderful. We see plenty of TV series regulars Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher, and they couldn't be better. Ambrose feels just like his TV character as well. And the new characters are great.

All this is held together with an easy to read writing style. Natalie's first person narration is so easy to read I fairly flew through the book.

The issues with the characters are enough to knock a star off the book, but don't let that stop you. Mr. Monk in Outer Space still provides plenty of mystery and humor to entertain fans of the show.

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

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