One of the things I dont like about most series on cable TV networks is the much shorter seasons when original episodes air. Its a short burst, then nothing for months. And while one could fairly argue that system beats the traditional broadcast pattern of scattering in reruns within a season, personally, Im just getting into the groove of watching new episodes of Monk before it goes away again, leaving months upon months before a single new edition airs.
So for a devoted fan like me, a book based on the series is like a favorite between-meal snack. Sure its pure fluff, but when Im on one of my long commutes, fluff makes the ideal snack.
Written by Lee Goldberg, who also has written episodes of the TV series, Mr. Monk in Outer Space could easily pass for a two-part episode (it has a few too many plot points to condense into one 40-something minute episode).
The primary cast of the series is present and accounted forAdrian Monk, the obsessive/compulsive former San Francisco police detective who never fails to outsmart the remarkably incompetent current police force; Captain Stottlemeyer, Monks former boss who calls in his old friend to solve any number of complex murder cases in the City by the Bay; Lieutenant Disher, the over-eager, sycophantic homicide detective (think Waylon Smithers level sucking up, except straight); and Natalie Teeger, Monks overworked, underpaid assistant/Gal Friday. More interesting for a Monk-o-phile like yours truly is the appearance of Monks brother Ambrose, only seen in a few of the TV episodes. Ambrose, like his brother, has challenges in his life: hes agoraphobic, never leaving the Monks childhood home (except when the house was on fire and when he thought he had been poisoned).
Outer Space is narrated in Natalies voice, with a faithfulness to the character that makes it easy to hear actress Traylor Howards inflections and exasperated tone in dealing with her bosss idiosyncrasies and the general mayhem that is her daily life. Goldberg does seem able to give Natalie a tiny bit more of an edge in the book than the TV series generally shows, but in the context of a book like this, it works. Natalie has always had a playful, sometimes flirty persona, and in the book they play that up as well.
Viewers of the TV show know that sometimes the mystery to be solved is no real mystery at allthe killer is revealed in the opening sequence, and the fun comes from seeing Monk unraveling the clues. Other times, the story truly is constructed as a mystery, with the killer not becoming quite as obvious until about halfway through. With the freedom a book affords, Goldberg keeps the whodunit part on hold well into the story.
The mystery from which the book derives its name is actually about a murder at a fan convention for a Star Trek, er, um, Beyond Earth as its called for the sake of fiction, as opposed to Mr. Monk actually heading into space. To no ones surprise, Monk does not fare well surrounded by legions of Trekkies, er, um, Earthers, with their strange costumes, made-up language and obsessive devotion to a TV show from two generations ago. The made-up language, an anathema to the incredibly straight-laced Monk, is proof positivein his mindthat the whole lot of fans consists of drug using freaks. Of course, it happens to be Ambrose who wrote the dictionary of said made-up language, setting off more tension between the brothers.
The murder victim is the creator of the original series, who had been vilified by some fans for agreeing to let a new version of his series be made with a new cast and a new style. He also happened to have an ex-wife who might or might not still be in his will and in line to receive major dough if he croaked. And though the murder was captured by not one but four security cameras, the costume the killer wore could have been worn by virtually anyone at the fan convention.
Now thats a lot of suspects.
Along the way, Monk manages to solve some other unrelated murders
or are they? After all, in Monks world, theres always more than seems obvious at first glance.
Mr. Monk in Outer Space will best be enjoyed by fans of the show who already understand the characters. Although Goldberg does a good job explaining some of the backstorylike Monk losing his beloved wife, Trudy, to murder thus setting off his nearly debilitating OCDhaving that basic understanding makes the story much easier to follow.
Its brain candy at its best, but after a long day, a bite of brain candy hits the spot.
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