“Just as delightful as watching Monk solve cases on the small screen.” (Bloggin’ ’bout Books Review of “Mr. Monk Helps Himself”)

September 10, 2013

If you’ve seen an episode of the t.v. show Monk (and who hasn’t?) you’ll understand why I love its title character so much.  Adrian Monk, especially as portrayed (to perfection) by the incomparable Tony Shalhoub, is quirky, fun, hilarious and just all-around charming.  If you’re not familiar with OCD-afflicted Detective Monk, never fear, you can watch the series on Netflix.  If you’ve seen every episode and still can’t get enough, no worries, you can check out the 15 Monk mysteries Lee Goldberg wrote.  Bummed that Goldberg’s moved on? Not a problem.  Hy Conrad, one of the original writers of the t.v. series, has taken over where Goldberg left off.  Mr. Monk Helps Himself is the first of Conrad’s Monk novels and, guess what?  Reading it is just as delightful as watching Monk solve cases on the small screen.

Like the other Monk novels, this one is narrated by Natalie Teeger, Monk’s assistant.  Having returned from a sojourn in New Jersey, she’s back in California helping Monk keep his OCD in check long enough to aid the San Francisco Police Department with their toughest cases.  Determined to become more than just Monk’s babysitter, she’s studying for the exam that will make her a licensed private investigator.  Once she’s legal, Natalie will become her boss’s partner.  Until then, she’s the “unlegendary, underpaid and overworked … assistant to a brilliant and very stubborn six-year-old”.
To get a little breather from her hectic life, Natalie sneaks off to a seminar led by a successful self-help guru named Miranda Bigley.  She purposely lies about her whereabouts so her boss won’t pester her to dust his already spotless lightbulbs or call fifty times to moan about his newest phobia.  And yet, somehow, he finds her.  Monk’s raving about cults when Miranda walks right off a seaside cliff, plunging to her death.  The police call it a suicide, but Natalie knows better.  How could someone who spent her life helping people find happiness be miserable enough to kill herself?  It makes no sense.  No one else seems to care about poor Miranda, especially not Monk, who’s hard at work trying to catch a serial killer.  Natalie won’t give up on it, though.  She’s going to find her heroine’s killer if it’s the last thing she does.  With two cases to solve, an exam to study for and Monk to hand-hold, Natalie’s got a lot on her plate.  Can she do it all and pass her P.I. exam, too?  Or is she destined to be Monk’s babysitter forever?
As you can probably tell, the book remains true to the lighthearted tone of the t.v. series.  Not that it doesn’t have its gory parts.  It does. But, overall, Mr. Monk Helps Himself is a quick, enjoyable read that won’t tax too many of your brain cells.  If you’re looking for a complex, nuanced mystery, look somewhere else.  If, on the other hand, you simply want a funny, upbeat story, well, you’ve found your next read.  Whether you’re an old Monk fan or a new one, chances are, you’re going to enjoy the ride.