Having never watched the Monk show on TV, or read any of the other books about this character, I came to the story with no expectations except for a fun read.
From the first page, I was immediately drawn into the story, told by first person narrator Natalie Teeger, who worked for Monk as an assistant and is now his partner. Or at least she is jockeying for that position, but first she has to pass the P.I. exam.
As consultants to the SF Police Department, there are numerous opportunities for the two of them to put their unique skills to work. For Monk, who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, those skills are finely tuned and quirky. His phobias are in the high numbers, so when one of the first cases in this story involves a murdered clown, all of Monk’s alarms go off.
What fun to see Monk going through his paces, while trying to avoid triggers to his phobias. Natalie arranges for the detectives to avoid certain words–like clown, costume, circus, etc., and substitute the victim’s name and his “uniform.” All clown-related items are covered up, but only in specific ways, so as not to alarm Monk.
Other cases demand their skills, and observing how Monk works, despite his unusual approach, kept things flowing. A suicide that doesn’t seem right, along with whatever else comes up, advances the story, along with the occasional personal elements, like Monk’s on-again, off-again relationship with Ellen, who owns a store called Poop. A word and its associations that also trigger Monk’s alarms. His habits, such as regularly cleaning the light bulbs in his house and counting the peas before making his potpie, lend a vulnerability to his character. While most of these activities seem couched in humor, the obsessive/compulsive nature of them remind us that he suffers considerably without his routines.
Therefore, change is a real challenge. And in Mr. Monk Helps Himself, we see Natalie valiantly helping him make minor changes to allow for the partners to be more effective. And as they get into one precarious situation after another, the reader has the opportunity to enjoy the cliffhanger moments, as well as the intriguing banter between Monk and Natalie. 4.5 stars.