Mr. Monk on the Road
by Lee Goldberg
Review by Don Metzler
NAL Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451232113
Date: 04 January 2011 List Price $22.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Aaron grabbed me from behind with his left arm, snatched a butcher knife from the sink with his right hand, and held the blade to my throat as he pulled me tight against him.Once again Natalie Teeger finds herself put in harm's way, through no fault of her own, but simply because she happens to be detective Adrian Monk's personal assistant. So when the latest deadly assault on Natalie is happily concluded, one would think that she'd be happy for a vacation. But the vacation that Mr. Monk suggests is somewhat less than alluring for Natalie.
Mr. Monk's brother Ambrose suffers from an extreme case of agoraphobia. Ambrose has not set foot outside of his Marin County house for decades. Even Adrian Monk, king of the obsessive-compulsives, recognizes that his brother's condition is excessive, to say the least. Although Mr. Monk is socially inept and unable to express emotion, the fact remains that he deeply loves his brother. And he recognizes that Ambrose will have missed out on a large part of life if he is never able to have firsthand experience of anything other than what he can see out the windows of his own home. So Mr. Monk has hatched a plan for a special present he can give his brother.
For Ambrose's upcoming birthday, Monk proposes to rent a motor home, spike his brother's birthday cake with sleeping pills, and take him on the road trip of a lifetime. Even if his agoraphobia renders Ambrose unable to leave the safety of the motor home, by simply looking out of the windows he will be afforded a view of the outside world unlike anything he has previously experienced. At least, that is Monk's reasoning. Natalie points out that technically this will constitute kidnapping, but Monk waves aside her objections and pushes forward with his plan. Reluctantly, Natalie agrees to help.
The first problem arises midway through Day One, in the area of Monterey. During Monk and Natalie's brief absence from the motor home, Ambrose, groggy and disgruntled upon regaining consciousness, uses Natalie's cell phone to call 911 and report his abduction. When the Monterey police arrive, Monk and Natalie are able to convince them that this is not an actual kidnapping, but simply a dysfunctional and somewhat wacky family. Which in a sense is the truth.
But this is also where the second problem arises. A local police detective, realizing that the renowned Adrian Monk is visiting his precinct, asks Monk to have a look at a puzzling crime scene, where the body of a young woman has washed up on the beach. To the Monterey police it bears all the earmarks of a suicide, but Monk quickly identifies it as a case of murder. And so begins the trail of corpses that inevitably follows Mr. Monk wherever he goes. As the unlikely road trip progresses, two additional dead bodies will turn up, one in an alley in San Luis Obispo, and the other on a highway near Red Lake, Arizona.
Only Adrian Monk can attract this many corpses in the space of three days, and only Adrian Monk can possibly divine a connection between the far-flung crimes. In the process, brother Ambrose is treated to a once-in-a-lifetime view of life as it exists outside the confines of his Marin County home. Unfortunately, this birthday road trip may also lead to the slaughter of the entire Monk clan, along with Natalie as well, by a vengeful trucker on a secluded two-lane highway.
With each new Monk novel that author Lee Goldberg gives us, plot becomes less and less important, and the characters and their interactions with one another become more important. Mr. Monk on the Road cannot boast of having an actual plot. The book is comprised of a series of vignettes that are loosely tied together through the device of the motor home and the improbable road trip. But this fact will not greatly trouble readers of the previous Monk books. The joy of this narrative is derived from observing Mr. Monk as he effortlessly spots the subtle clues and unravels the baffling complexities of each crime scene. And further pleasure is derived from the continuing evolution of the relationships between Monk, Natalie Teeger, brother Ambrose, and SFPD Captain Stottlemeyer.
Readers of Monk will enjoy Mr. Monk on the Road as much as or more than any of the Monk books that have preceded it. Heartily recommended.