If you really love a TV series and just can’t get enough of it, the next best thing is a good series of spin-off novels. Of course, spin-off novels could be terrible, but if they’re written by a really good writer who knows both the show and his genre inside-out, the novels could actually be better than some episodes of the TV series.
Enter the Monk novels, by mystery writer Lee Goldberg.
I don’t think these novels would work as stand-alones if you weren’t already a fan of the series. Goldberg (writing in the first-person voice of Mr. Monk’s long-suffering assistant, Natalie) does a good job of sketching Mr. Monk’s quirks and oddities as well as his genius, but it’s all based on the assumption that the reader has already seen Tony Shalhoub’s unforgettable performance in the role and that that image will be firmly fixed in your head as you read.
Since that’s where I’m coming from, I have no complaints. I’ve now read Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse and Mr. Monk Goes to the Hawaii, and I’m in the middle of Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants, which I like best because it brings back Sharona and shows her and Natalie dealing with Monk together, something that will never happen in TV-land but which a novelist can easily do. I’m not a serious mystery reader despite my love for Lord Peter Wimsey, so I can’t evaluate how these stack up as mystery novels, but I find them a little more challenging and intriguing than most of the TV episode mysteries — and a little more complex, since they last longer than an hour (though not a lot longer — they’re short books). Goldberg also does a good job writing from a woman’s perspective and, I think, captures Natalie’s voice really well.
I’m finding these a good, light right in between bouts of longer, heavier books, and I hope Goldberg keeps turning them out, even after Monk, the series, comes to an end (which it probably should soon — good as it is, it was running out of steam by Season Six, which we have on DVD, and I haven’t even seen the currently-airing season yet). I don’t know if a mystery lover would be intrigued enough to pick them up without having seen the series — though it might be worth a try — but anyone who loves Monk should definitely check these out.