Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse
by Lee Goldberg
My love-hate relationship with Lee Goldberg has officially turned to a hate-hate one. Lee has spoken out about how he thinks fanfiction (fiction that fans write based on tv shows, which I write) is awful. I was MORE than willing to look past that in the light of more Monk stories now that the series is over. The problem is, this was horribly written.
It's got all the elements of Monk--the characters, the mystery, the obsessive compulsive detective, and the reveal--but the way those elements are presented is NOT Monk. For Monk to only drink a particular brand of water is one thing... for him to constantly name drop (Natalie KNOWS the brand by now; you've said it a gazillion times) is just plain annoying. It wasn't until I looked up Lee's bio and saw that he wrote the Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico episode that I realized that he was trying to bring details from an episode he wrote into the story so it seemed more true to form. The problem is, the Monk in that episode was under unusual stresses/situation and behaved differently. The Monk in this book was just out of character enough for it to totally stand out.
Speaking of out of character... much like the Hawaii-based Monk book that I read of his, this one is told from Natalie's point of view. However, I'm not sure who Lee thinks this Natalie is. His characterization of her is so painfully bad and full of the typical problems you see when men try to write women--obsessing about their breast sizes, for example. Most appalling is that she genuinely seems to dislike Monk. Um, no. She seems to hate her job and thinks Monk is a good detective but totally crazy. And Stotlemeyer and Disher back her up on that. It's one thing to write that, knowing how an actor will deliver the line (so the audience knows they still have affection and respect for the character they are insulting). But in a book, it just sounds like Natalie hates him. Which couldn't be further from the relationship Natalie and Monk have. She might get frustrated with him, but she doesn't insult him. Natalie is one of the nicest people in the world and would NEVER sat the horrible things Lee has her thinking and saying. That's just unforgivable.
The mystery itself was loads better than the one in the Hawaii book, and it followed typical Monk style. However, it felt like the author was working too hard in bringing in elements to trigger Monk's OCD (like throwing him into a trash dump to sift through garbage). And there were plenty of details that actually went AGAINST Monk canon, which is absolutely inexcusable. For example, in this book, Monk is allergic to cats. In one early series episode (before Natalie even comes onto the scene) there is a whole plot line revolving around cats & cat hair. Monk isn't allergic in that episode but Randy is. In the book, Randy is fine, but Monk is allergic. And when aspects of the case rest on this fact, it is not only copying an existing mystery-solving element but also WRONG.
The differences between fanfiction and books based on shows are many (including receiving authorization and getting paid). But in fanfiction, it's perfectly okay to throw canon out the window and make Monk allergic to cats and Randy fine with them. In a novel based on a show, however, you can make up facts but you CANNOT totally change established facts so that they suit you. That's just sloppy, lazy, and unfaithful.
I enjoyed the mystery, and kept reading to find out whodunit and how. But that's where the enjoyment stopped. With absolutely CRUCIAL things like characters and canon elements so wrongly done, even this die-hard Monk fan couldn't get on board with this book.
I have the next Monk book on Mount To Be Read. I think I'll take it off and give it away instead. I can't stand to read anything else that does such a poor job with a show I love.