Mr. Monk in Outer Space
by Lee Goldberg
Review by Don Metzler
NAL Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451220981
Date: 30 October 2007 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A killer with an elephant's trunk instead of a nose and a suspect who speaks in a language that is understood by only one other person on the planet make this one of Adrian Monk's most interesting cases yet.
When Conrad Stipe, creator of the legendary science fiction program Beyond Earth, is shot and killed, the crime is captured on security cameras. The assassin was wearing a starship uniform and an elephant's trunk that dangled to his chin, but with the annual Beyond Earth convention in town, there are at least one hundred people who fit that description.
The natural assumption is that this murder is the work of an irate fan of the long-defunct television series. Stipe had recently sold the program rights to a ruthless Hollywood producer named Kingston Mills. Mills had then begun airing a new version of Beyond Earth, a version that substituted sex and violence in the place of plot and theme, and infuriated the loyal fans of the original program.
Obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk and his faithful assistant Natalie Teeger are plunged into a world of fanatical space groupies who have catalogued and studied every detail of the original program. The Earthers, as they call themselves, attend their conventions dressed as characters from the show, including one alien whose anatomy is reversed, his entrails being situated on the outside of his body for all to see. Monk is horrified to learn that his own brother, Ambrose, is also an Earther. Though Ambrose's agoraphobia prevents him from leaving his own house, he has written several books detailing facts from the series, including the official dictionary of an imaginary language called Dratch. Eventually Monk realizes that he may be able to use Ambrose's knowledge of Beyond Earth, and his command of the Dratch language, to help solve the murder.
Mr. Monk in Outer Space is another typically well-crafted effort from Lee Goldberg. The scenes flow seamlessly and quickly, the dialogue is always fun, and while some of the situations frankly stretch the limits of believability, there is some indefinable quality to Goldberg's writing that makes us believe it anyway. There may be some readers who will say that writing novels based on a television series is easier than conventional fiction, because the readers will already have a sense of the characters from having watched the program. But this reviewer is not a watcher of television, and has never seen a Monk program. Yet the characters still leap off the page as clearly defined people, some of them from real life, but more often than not clever caricatures.
This entry in the Monk series contains the added bonus of the brother vs. brother interplay between Ambrose and Adrian Monk: Adrian the obsessive-compulsive detective, and Ambrose the brilliant but agoraphobic recluse who also seems to have a goodly portion of obsessive-compulsive behavior in his own personality. The brothers vie over which of them is best suited to sort pasta and count the correct number of unbroken noodles so that each portion is identical. Watching them, Natalie speculates as to what Mother Monk must have been like, to have brought two such sons into the world. Interesting speculation indeed.
Mr. Monk in Outer Space possesses the additional attraction of the lighthearted, good-spirited fun that Goldberg pokes at attendees of science fiction conventions.
I can recommend this novel to all readers of light crime fiction, and to devotees of Lee Goldberg and Monk in particular.