Mr Monk in Trouble

In the newest of his Monk novels, Lee Goldberg uses some interesting tricks to move he plot along, and differentiate this story from the earlier ones in the series.

It has one of the usual problems of the Goldberg books, in that he doesn’t nail the personality of the lead character. Goldberg’s Monk is vocally more obnoxious and schizophrenic than in the TV series. I presume this is because, lacking an actor to pass  information to the audience with expressions and gestures, the author needs Monk to say things to establish his character. At times Goldberg pushes this so hard that he breaks characterisation with the original series. Monk on the TV show, for example, likes children, and even wanted them (if you take his statement that his wife “Trudy never wanted children” as an indication that he did.)  In this book he calls them vermin.

Goldberg has at least stopped blaming Monk’s mother for his mental illness. I’ve never really understood why he took that line. Monk doesn’t actually have OCD (because he believes his obsessions are rational, and knowing that the obsessions are not rational is diagnostic of OCD) but he’s a really popular character in the OCD community. Blaming the mother is one of those things which used to be medically approved, and now strikes sparks because it has been disproven. This means that many older people with OCD remember when their therapists were blaming their primary carers for causing their OCD.  So it has always seemed a weird choice to me to have Monk’s abusive mother be the source of his problems.

In this book, instead, Monk goes to Western gold mining town to solve the murder of a retired police officer, and there Natalie, his assistant, discovers a book by Abigail, the assistant of the town’s assayer in the gold rush period. The assayer’s name was Artemis Monk. Artemis was a genius, but couldn’t stand disorder, and originally hired Abigail as a laundress. Artemis was drawn into solving crimes, because of his love or order and his ability to spot patterns other people couldn’t see.

Now, the Artemis character is a great trick by Goldberg. Artemis lives in the Old West, and so he rants and rails about unhygienic things that his contemporaries don’t care about, like spitting tobacco juice and letting their horses dump all over the sidewalks.  He finds this as disgusting as the things which set off the modern Monk, so the reader is now inside Monk’s world.  Well, up until the point Artemis wants to burn down buildings for being insufficiently symmetrical.

It’s a very good book, although it is somewhat skewed by bets Goldberg has taken about the plot of the final TV series. He apologies in the front of the book that his bets didn’t pay off: the final series apparently doesn’t marry up to where he thought the plot would go. Readers of his earlier books will be used to this, however, because he’s had the same problems before, and at least this time he’s warned you in advance.

So, a well constructed main mystery, with fairly given clues, supplemented by vignette mysteries which don’t quite work as puzzles of themselves, but are fun in that they put you in the mind of Monk by proxy.  I’d recommend it to fans of the series as perhaps the second best, after Mr Monk is miserable.