Mr. Monk Goes to Germany is the sixth book in the line of novels based on the USA Network series Monk, written by Lee Goldberg, who also wrote episodes for the TV series. After Monk’s psychiatrist Dr Kroger travels to Germany to attend a conference, Monk has breakdown and he and Natalie decide to follow him to Europe. When he encounters a man with six fingers on his right hand who obviously has a connection to Dr. Kroger, Monk instinctively believes it’s the man responsible for Trudy’s murder and begins to distrust Kroger. To ensure the help of the local police Monk has to solve a local murder, all while trying to prove the six-fingered man’s guilt.
I have to admit I started this book with somewhat low expectations. I’m trying to spread my wings in the tie-in reviewing world, and Monk seemed to be a decent choice since I liked the show well enough and the novel line actually seems to be pretty successful. As a German I naturally chose Mr. Monk Goes to Germany as my first foray into the line, despite the fact that the advance knowledge that Trudy’s murder would play a significant role was lowering my expectations on what Lee Goldberg would actually be able to bring to the table, since it’s pretty obvious that he wouldn’t be allowed to do anything really important with that storyline while the show was still running (the book was published in 2008). Add to this that first-person stories are not my favourite kind of storytelling, and you see where my low expectations comment comes from.
But Mr. Monk Goes to Germany was a positive surprise. While the Trudy plot really didn’t lead to anything world changing, it provided some nice, entertaining scenes, like Natalie hitting Dr Kroger or Monk trying to put the Berlin Wall back together out of pieces in a souvenir shop. Another positive surprise was the pretty balanced presentation of Germany. Sure, there are some of the usual stereotypes, but most of them are shown in Lohr, a village dedicated to tourism and therefore stereotypical by choice. By showing other cities like Frankfurt and Berlin, Lee Goldberg makes sure that he gives a fair representation of Germany’s diversity, and I for one appreciate that. Where the murder in the US which Monk solves by phone is a bit too obvious, the actual murder Monk has to solve to secure the German police’s help is a tad contrived, but in tandem with the Trudy investigation the mystery side of the novel makes for an entertaining read nonetheless. But the real strength lies in the little comedic scenes scattered throughout the book like the ones mentioned above.
The characterisations are decent, but there’s nothing really outstanding about them. Monk is Monk, Natalie is Natalie, but there’s little new for the characters. One thing which I found a bit unfitting is Monk’s repeated use of Dioxnyl. I haven’t seen the episode where he used it on the show in ages, but didn’t he stop using it because it hampered his memories of Trudy? In my opinion it would be somewhat out of character for him to use it so “freely” given those side effects. Another thing which bothered me a bit was that the German police detectives were basically carbon copies of Stottlemeyer and Disher. I guess it’s meant to give the novel a familiar feel, but I wouldn’t have minded to see some more original co-workers for Monk. One character I think Goldberg has nailed very well, though, is Dr Kroger.
All in all a good, quick read. Like most of the TV show, Mr. Monk Goes to Germany probably isn’t the most memorable thing you can imagine, but it’s a very decent way to kill some time.
Mr. Monk Goes to Germany (by Lee Goldberg) was released by Signet Books in July 2008.