Behind the Music: Mr. Monk On Patrol

MR_MONK_ON_PATROL (2)Mr. Monk on Patrolmy 13th original Monk novelis out today in bookstores everywhere…and it's very much a story about change

 Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive detective, and his assistant Natalie Teeger travel to New Jersey to help out former SFPD detective Randy Disher, who is now Chief of Police of Summit and living with Sharona Fleming, Monk's previous assistant.  But the story is about much more than that…or the reunion with beloved characters…or the complex murders that Monk eventually solves.

I have always had a lot of  fun writing the Monk books, but most of the time, I was constrained by having to stick to the continuity of the TV series (which I also occasionally wrote for). That changed with the finale of the TV show, which really shook things up and liberated me  to let the characters evolve in new and exciting ways…and to even introduce a few new, regular characters. It also freed me to pay off some of the character arcs that began early the novel series, which started back in 2006 with Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse (which I adapted with William Rabkin into the episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing")

I believe that characters in a series become stale if they don’t grow and that readers, and the author, will become bored with them. At the same time, you want to remain true to what makes the characters, the relationships, and the "franchise" so special. 

It's a delicate balance. And here's how I've tried to maintain it.

The Monk books are narrated by Natalie. I chose that approach because I think it humanizes Monk. It gives us a necessary distance. Natalie’s eyes become the replacement for the camera lens that gave us our point of view on the TV version of Adrian Monk. Also, a little Monk goes a long way. You can overdo the joke and all the obsessive/compulsive stuff. By telling the stories from Natalie’s point of view, we aren’t with him all the time. We get some space, a breather from his phobias and ticks, and I think that’s important. 

But there's a side benefit. It’s allowed me to add an emotional resonance to the story-lines that goes beyond just Monk’s eccentricities and the solving of puzzling mysteries. The underlying theme of the books (and yes, there's always one) are often reflected in whatever is happening in Natalie’s life. Her personal story frames the way in which she perceives the mystery and reacts to Monk, so it’s all of a piece. It’s allowed me to make her a deeper, more interesting, and more realistic character. By doing that, I make Monk more dimensional as well, and I can ground the story in what I like to think of as “a necessary reality.”

Without that reality, Monk would just be a caricature and cartoon character. Natalie humanizes Monk and makes the world that the two of them live in believable to the reader. Through her, we are able to invest emotionally in the story. Without that crucial element, I believe the books would have failed.

Since we are in Natalie's head, we get to know her. And the more time you spend with someone, the deeper your relationship should become. So that's what I've tried to do with the reader's relationship with her. With that depth should come growth.
So, as your relationship with her grew and evolved, so did hers with Adrian Monk. I felt if I did it that way, the changes in their characters and the evolution in their relationship would all feel natural and inevitable. 

Natalie is a smart woman and I didn’t think she could stick with Monk, and keep investigating murders, if she didn’t find it fascinating herself. And I doubted she could do it for so long without picking up some skills along the way. It’s an arc I've been developing with her since Mr. Monk and The Dirty Copthe eighth book in the series, and that pays off in a big way now in Mr. Monk On Patrol.  
The relationship between Monk and Natalie changes dramatically in this book…and yet I believe it's a natural extension of events in both the TV series and the last few books. This change has major consequences that impact all of the other characters in their world and that carries over directly into the next book in the series, Mr. Monk is a Mess, coming in July 2012, and that leads into the finale of the book series. 
Well, at least my involvement in it. I decided while writing Mr. Monk on Patrol that I was going to leave the series at the end of my current contract. My good friend Andy Breckman, the creator of Monk, and my publishers have kindly allowed me to write a finale, one that leaves the door open should they decide to continue the book series someday with another writer. 

I hope you enjoy Mr. Monk on Patrol. I certainly had a great time writing it!