I wasn’t sure which title to go for next in the series, (bearing in mind that some had to be read in a particular order due to plot developments), but this book certainly had an attention-grabbing title. As a series regular, I was boggling at how Monk would ever end up in space. However, as the synopsis shows below, Monk doesn’t quite make it into space…
‘At a convention for the cult science fiction show Beyond Earth, Adrian Monk meets fans as obsessive-compulsive as he is. Though he’s not preoccupied with the program, Monk can understand the phenomenon. Who wouldn’t want to live in an imaginary world? But there may be a killer in the Beyond Earth community: Someone in a starship uniform has gunned down the show’s legendary creator. Could a fan be that furious at him for selling out to Hollywood? Or is more going on behind the scenes? Luckily, Monk’s agoraphobic brother, Ambrose, is an expert on the TV series, and together they’ll search the earth and beyond for the murderer. That is, if Ambrose can bring himself to leave the house.’
Compared to the other books I have read in this series, this story presents us with a different opening context, namely that of Natalie Teeger’s dating life and the fact she has recently got dumped by a guy (who wasn’t much of catch):
‘His name was Scooter, which should have been my first hint that this relationship wasn’t going to work out. I thought the nickname was cute at first, that it was a reflection of his boyish charm. I didn’t realise it was a reflection of his short attention span on matters that didn’t centre on him.’
This is unusual as the other Mr Monk titles I have read did not have such a Natalie focused start. However, what is typical about this beginning is that it starts with a good opening line, one that invites questions and therefore necessitates further reading: ‘I almost killed someone the other day.’
However, one of the things which makes this dating theme more interesting is that Natalie shows self-awareness and realises that due to her lack of emotional support, she offloaded a lot during their dates. I think her realising her errors makes her a more sympathetic figure, as well as her sense of humour: ‘Fine. I was needy. Shoot me and toss my corpse into a ravine.’ I liked how she doesn’t get overly morbid or melancholic and the way she thinks of a retort hours after the event is something a lot of us can identify with.
Naturally as soon as Natalie decides to shake things up for herself, change the lifestyle rut she has got into, she gets sucked into a new Adrian Monk crisis. This time his world is caving in due to a carpet stain no one can see and chapter 1 closes with Monk angling to stay at Natalie’s – something she is not keen on. (I can’t blame her!)
One thing I noticed about Adrian Monk in this book is that he comes across as more demanding in this opening. Yet whilst this behaviour is not condoned by the text, the way it is presented comically, makes it enjoyable to read about. A good example is when Monk goes to look at his first corpse of the book:
‘In the meantime, you’re needed on the fifth floor.’
‘I’d prefer the fourth floor.’ Monk rolled his shoulders. ‘Or the sixth.’
‘The body is on the fifth floor,’ Stottlemeyer said.
‘You could move the body,’ Monk said.
‘No, I couldn’t,’ Stottlemeyer said as the officer approached. ‘That would disturb the crime scene.’
‘But the crime scene will disturb me,’ Monk said.
The first crime scene is wrapped up quickly, although it has some unusual features that are not resolved at that point. But with a few of these Monk mysteries under my belt, I figured it would come up again later in what will be considered the “main” case. And in this I proved to be correct. Monk, true to form, causes chaos at the sci-fi convention, with a particular highlight being the moment he bins valuable limited edition cereal worth thousands of dollars due to the expiry date.
It was great having a story involving Ambrose, Adrian Monk’s brother, as I enjoyed those episodes in the TV series. The pair generate a lot of humour and character investment. The way Ambrose gets involved in the case is also amusing, as it is an unexpected entry point, yet it fits with his background and causes a strong response from Adrian. Adrian is insensitive to one of his brother’s hobbies, yet he is made to confront this, and I liked how it does not go unchallenged by characters such as Natalie. A strength of this book is that the character development comes organically out of the mystery plot. It doesn’t feel forced.
It was interesting reading the comments made about the book regarding TV/Film adaptations and how adapters handle their source material. For example, we have this exchange between Natalia and an actor and a producer of a forthcoming sci-fi adaptation:
‘If you have such disdain for Stipe, the fans, and the original series, why are you bothering with Beyond Earth at all?’
‘Because it’s a pre-sold franchise,’ he said. ‘A brand.’
‘But it was a failure,’ I said.
‘That doesn’t matter,’ Mills said. ‘It existed before and people know that.’
‘Why not just come up with something new?’
‘New is old school. It’s too risky for the networks and for the audiences. People are much more comfortable with the familiar,’ Mills said. ‘Reimagination is the new New.’
This feels like a sentiment which is arguably still held onto today with writers such as Agatha Christie being treated as a brand to push stories that are not necessarily in keeping with her original work, as well as the reluctance of TV companies to adapt other Golden Age Detective fiction authors.
Overall, I don’t think this is a mystery you can solve yourself, primarily because not enough upfront information is given to the reader, in contrast to some of the other books I have read in the series. However, it is a mystery you enjoy for the ride. I got part of the solution, but it was more of an educated guess. Nevertheless, we have a suitably dramatic finale with a modicum of the ridiculous – true Monk.
I’m glad you enjoyed it! That book, like my novel DEAD SPACE, was a way for me to exorcise my own demons after my experience as a writer/producer on SEAQUEST…and my years cover sf fandom as a reporter for STARLOG.
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Oh I didn’t know that. That’s interesting!