It’s a dangerous world when an author sets about to write a book with pre-existing characters. The quality of such novelizations can vary wildly. An author might do well with the characters, construct a good plot, and engage his readers. But just as easily, an author could turn out a lazy, unmemorable product. I’ve come across both types of novelizations in my (admittedly brief) time. So when I finally made the decision to approach Lee Goldberg’s Monk novelisations, it was with something like a sense of unease. Which category would this turn out to be in?
My evidence is limited to the first book in the series, Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse. But I’m glad to report that it was a fun little book to read: it’s got a decent plot and good characterization. And it’s fun to keep track of the story. It all starts out when Adrian Monk’s home is being fumigated. None of his friends want him to move in with them, and hotel managers break down in terror when he approaches them to thoroughly examine their rooms. Finally, his assistant Natalie Teeger decides to let him stay at her place.
But no sooner do they walk into Natalie’s home, they find Natalie’s daughter Julie is very upset. Reluctantly, she admits that something terrible has happened—she just found out that Sparky is dead. Who is Sparky, you might ask? It’s the firehouse dog, who accompanies Firefighter Joe from school to school. Monk, possibly feeling grateful to Natalie for giving him a place to stay, decides that he will investigate Sparky’s death. Oh, didn’t I mention that part? You see, Sparky’s death was not natural: while the firefighters were out on a call, somebody entered the firehouse and murdered him.
So as you can tell, the plot seems simple at first, but not for much longer. When investigating Sparky’s death, Monk runs into a suspicious “accidental” fire which killed a very unpleasant lady. But using his powers of deduction and observation, Monk proves that this is a case of homicide, and before long, Monk knows who the killer is. The rest of the book is a battle of wits between Monk and the culprit, as Monk tries to obtain evidence and the culprit desperately tries covering his tracks.
|Author Lee Goldberg|
The plot is well-worked out. The revelation is a reasonable one, not one of those cop-outs where the detective gets information off-screen only to reveal it to the guilty party. You are privy to the same information, and author Lee Goldberg does a nice job of hinting to you what the final piece of evidence is. In fact, Monk solves this case thanks to the exploits of the fictional dog Marmaduke.
The characters are also nicely done. This is the biggest trap novelizations tend to fall into: many authors don’t bother developing the characters because they have an entire TV series or movie which explains these characters for them. Lee Goldberg isn’t satisfied with that approach, and manages to make these characters feel like his own, without compromising their original nature on the TV series. I have only seen some episodes of Monk, but I like the show fine from what I’ve seen. I like Monk, whose obsessive-compulsive disorder makes for some interesting moments, many of them comic in nature. From what I’ve seen, the show is a bit better on the comedy side than on the mystery side. There are some nice moments of comedy in this book, but the mystery is fairly decent as well.
Overall, I would recommend Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse. This is pure, unadulterated fun. The comedy is decent and gets more than the odd chuckle from me. I also liked how the mystery is not revolving around whodunit, but how was it done and what evidence is there to convict the culprit. It ends on a good chase sequence, which ends in a very funny way I don’t dare to reveal here. And the characters are likeable and well-developed. Well-done, Mr. Goldberg! I'd tip my hat to you, but I'm pretty sure Sergio at Tipping My Fedora has a copyright on that.