Mr. Monk on Patrol, my 13th original Monk novel, is 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.