Book Review

05/02/2011 § Leave a comment

Mr. Monk on the Road by Lee Goldberg

I enjoyed watching Monk when it was originally on the air, and I generally enjoy reading Lee Goldberg’s fiction.  Mr. Goldberg has written Monk books before, as well as Diagnosis Murder books, and has usually done a credible job at novelizing television shows.  His ability is more impressive in light of the fact that he is primarily a screenwriter.  Unfortunately, this aspect of his writing habits shows through quite clearly in his latest Monk novel.

Mr. Monk on the Road picks up where the previous book left off, and is set after the end of the television series.  In this installment, Monk tries to help his brother Ambrose, a reclusive technical writer, leave the house and experience the wonder of their particular part of the country.  Since Ambrose refuses to leave the house, Monk plans to drug him and carry him out to an RV that he has rented to drive around southern California and Nevada.

Predictably, there are certain hijinks that come up, like Monk ruining everyone’s fun at a large variety of places.  As always, Natalie must put up with Monk’s phobias, and the traditional conflicts arise.  If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know what I mean.  Interestingly, the book is written from Natalie’s perspective, which enables Goldberg to convey the development of the mystery without really giving much away.

The book mainly focuses on Monk and Ambrose’s travels, sidelining the actual mystery.  In fact, reading this gives you the sense that the mystery is more of an afterthought.  The mystery revolves around three murders that Monk stumbles upon while travelling.  Very little detail is given about the murders, and Monk seems more preoccupied with germs than with deaths, which counters the general tendency of the show.  This has the effect of weakening the overall plot of the book, as a road trip with the Monk brothers isn’t actually as compelling as fans would think, especially since Goldberg focuses his attention on Monk more than Ambrose.  As such, Monk becomes even more of a caricature of himself than normal.

Furthermore, Goldberg goes overboard with unnecessary details.  He is apparently drawing on his own experience as an RV renter and traveller, and for some reason feels compelled to present details of RV ownership in lieu of an actual adventure.  This tends to make the reader frustrated, as it is entirely extraneous to the plot to know that the man who was renting out the RV uses nautical terms to describe the vehicle.  This is compounded when Goldberg returns to this motif time and again, as if repetition makes the point more interesting.  It doesn’t.

In addition, Goldberg feels the need to bring up politics, rather nakedly, it might be added.  While I spend a good portion of my day doing political and economic analysis, I hate having to deal with it when I’m trying to amuse myself with a decent novel.  I get that Mr. Goldberg dislikes Sarah Palin, as do I.  However, that little fact adds nothing to the book, and only makes me frustrated.  Reading fiction should not feel like a chore.

Outside of those complaints, the book is rather mediocre.  It is far from the best book in the series, either in terms of plot quality or in terms of writing quality.  The plot seems incomplete throughout most of the book, and the writing feels low grade.  Still, there are amusing parts, such as when Ambrose wakes up to discover that he is riding on an RV.  There are also touching moments, like when Natalie starts a souvenir drawer for Ambrose.

In all, the book is only worth a read if you want to spend time in Monk’s world without watching or reading something old.  The book itself draws from Monk’s essential character, but doesn’t add to it.  However, it will likely be referenced in Goldberg’s next installment, so hardcore fans will probably want to read it.  Everyone else, I would imagine, has better things to do with their time.


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