Monday, 26 January 2009


Consultant to the San Francisco Police Department, where he used to work as a Homicide detective, Adrian Monk is probably the most brilliant private sleuth on Earth. Sherlock Holmes incarnated, he has no rival when it comes to solve puzzling murder mysteries. But his gift is also a curse: Monk has OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and an awfully long list of phobias (« germs, splinters, coloring books, mixed nuts, lint, curly hair... ») - troubles which got worse after Trudy, his wife, died because of a car bomb.

Natalie Teeger, his long-suffering assistant, helps him to cope with his curse when no-nonsense mustachioed Captain Leland Stottlemeyer and his wacky right-hand man Lieutenant Randy Disher call Monk on a case («... I've been Monk's Dr Watson, Kato, Rico Tubbs and Boy Wonder all rolled into one »). After following Monk's psychiatrist, Dr Kroger, in Germany, and solving murders there, Natalie obtains from her boss that they spend a few days in Paris.


Monk is of course the comedy-drama hit tv series created by Andy Breckman, and launched in 2002 on USA Network, with Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk. But since 2006 it's also a series of original mystery novels based on the characters of the show and written by Lee Goldberg. The name of Lee Goldberg ( is familiar to regular readers of this blog: novelist, scriptwriter, producer, television historian and expert (one of his books, Unsold Television pilots, is one of the 17 books permanently on your servant's desk), teacher and consultant.

Goldberg's impressive resume ( includes Diagnosis Murder, Martial Law, Nero Wolfe and even Fast Track: No Limits, a two hour movie pilot produced by our German friends of action concept ( Recently a blog, Planet All-Star, has put him #1 on a list of Five Writers who could save Television (, and we buy that without any single hesitation as we wrote last summer that Lee Goldberg was perhaps one of the last men in Hollywood able to make a television series entertaining (

Mr. Monk is Miserable, his latest Monk tie-in novel, is a perfect sample of the art of this master storyteller. Should you be a fan of the Monk tv series or not, as the show itself regularly flirts with the self-conscious formulaic Tony Shalhoub one-man show. But the talent of Lee Goldberg is to build totally original novels with familiar figures. His reinventions of Adrian Monk's frustrations and anxieties are so wonderfully and joyfully crafted that many of his readers already wish an adaptation of his new Monk Book for the television series (as it happened with Mr. Monk goes to the firehouse).


Mr. Monk is Miserable is narrated by Natalie Teeger, Mr. Monk's assistant («... but I also have to be his personal shopper, driver, secretary, and able-bodied investigative assistant »). In fact his second assistant, as many fans of the tv show fondly remember Sharona, the first. Natalie is the most patient individual on Earth. And she must be, as she endures the consequences of Adrian Monk's disorder and phobias (« We're walking on a giant toilet ») and after their incredible German adventures (see Mr. Monk goes to Germany) she considers that she deserves true holidays and blackmails her boss in the funniest manner to make a détour to Paris before going back home.

« It's always murder. Nobody dies of natural causes around Adrian Monk. » After challenging every written and unwritten rule of Air travel in a post-9.11 world (« This was already the flight from hell and we've hadn't even left the airport yet »), Mr. Monk solves a murder case aboard the plane to Paris (!) thanks to the "filthy habits" of the murderer (« But it's the first step on the road to moral degradation and total ruin »).

Natalie and Adrian finally arrive in France, where the detective genius reputation of Monsieur Monk precedes him. And they are welcome by representatives of the local police authorities, Chief Inspector Philippe Le Roux and his assistant, Inspector Guy Gadois, French counterparts of Stottlemeyer and Disher... almost literally. This is the occasion for Natalie to show Adrian that she speaks French (« There's a lot you don't know about me, Mr. Monk. I'm a woman of mystery and intrigue »).


Adrian Monk is the ultimate "fish out of the water": he's lost past the walls of his Pine Street apartment (« He doesn't travel across the Bay Bridge without a life vest, six months' worth of provisions, a priest, and a trailer comprising all his furniture, bedding and dishes »). So the confrontation with French culture is for him an Olympic test, when he discovers le rez-de-chaussée (« They're delusional »), le pain (« I don't eat anything called pain, agony, pestilence, or feculence... »), les Vélibs or le Croque Monsieur («This is living »).

Monk has his own conception of France's contribution to the civilized world - civilization is where he can find a bottle of Sierra Springs - and when Natalie, who went to France 20 years ago, asks him if he wishes to see Notre Dame, La Seine or Le Louvre, he answers that he dreams to visit the Paris sewer museum since childhood. French readers of Mr. Monk is Miserable will learn with delight that, according to our favorite OCD detective, « thanks to the sewer system, Paris became known as the City of Light, renowned throughout the world as a beacon of sanitation and sparkling cleanliness ». They will also learn that the sewer museum is Paris' equivalent of the Smithsonian (« The Louvre can't touch this ») and that Eugène Poubelle is « the Abraham Lincoln of France »!

Chassez le naturel... During a visit of Les Catacombes, Monk uncovers a murder case, to the despair of Natalie, who had already to accept the idea of the hazmat suit of her employer. Then murder sits right near them in a most peculiar restaurant. « There's no better way to discover Paris, its culture, and its people than through a murder investigation » believes Adrian Monk, and when Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher arrive from San Francisco, Monk is at last on terra cognita.


Mr. Monk is Miserable is a wonderful and fun book with an intrigue devised like a clockwork mechanism. Lee Goldberg's vision of Paris (take note, producers of My Own Worst Enemy) and of the French is sharply realistic. His wife is French and he's so familiar with France that your humble French servant cannot help thinking that Natalie's remarks about the "Disneyfication" of Paris (« How could the Parisians have let that happen? ») are the views of the author, who seems to be a true lover of the capital city.

Goldberg captures the essence of the "Monkishness" of his hero to transform the Adrian Monk routine, sometimes heavy in the television series, into a succession of cultural clashes which find their paroxysm with the motocrotte running gag (« It's something most Americans can only dream of »). He transports the familiar universe of the show on new territories but keeps the magic of its ensemble cast on paper: Stottlemeyer is up to his own tv standards, and you can almost see Ted Levine saying « You never see Dirty Harry, James Bond, Superman, or Captain Kirk take a snooze. Men of action don't need naps ». The sudden "stardom" of Randy Disher provides lots of great situations and lines - our favorite: « Now I understand why every French movie I've ever seen ends up with a suicide ».

Mr. Monk is Miserable is more than a tie-in, you don't even have to know the Monk tv series to enjoy it, but fans of the show will love it and pray that the production and USA Network adapt it on screen (USA's accountants will adore that...) It's a mystery story with a difference, and all the wit (there are shades of Mark Twain in Paris with Monk's exploration of the City of Light), the humor and the writing skills of a master novelist. Personal note: only Lee Goldberg could make Natalie Teeger sympathetic.

« I was on my motocrotte, going up and down the Champs-Elysées, and in a moment of startling clarity and peace that only comes from deep cleaning, it just hit me ». Only in Paris could Adrian Monk become so "Proustian". Try something new, try this brush of fresh air on crime novels, « live on the edge » with Monk and spend some great moments. We all need to have some fun these days...

« Adrian, Adrian. Adrian, Adrian. Adrian, emmène-moi. » (Buzy)

Mr. Monk is Miserable (Obsidian - U.S. $21.95)


Lee Goldberg said...

Thanks for the great, and thorough review. And you are correct, Natalie's views about the Disneyfication of Paris are, indeed, my own. That is one of the luxuries of being a novelist...being able to express your opinions, no matter how offensive or inoffensive they might be, through your characters. That's not to say that all of the opinions and attitudes that my fictional characters express are my own...but a few of them are.


cmjsrevihc said...

A fantastic book. I've only had the privileg of seeing the first four season of Monk, becauise that's all we have in syndication so far here in Canada, but I love it.

This novel was the only one I could find at our local bookstores, but I've since ordered the rest that are in paperback from People around me were very patient, because in the few days I spent reading the book, I kept stopping to tell them snippets. "Have you hear of a motocrotte?" or "They have these amazing public toilets in Paris" and finally, "I have to find a recipe for Croque Monsieur..." So besides being a wonderful extension of the Monk TV series, it was also like a brochure for Paris.