Mr. Monk Goes to HawaiiAs much as I truly *love* the Monk TV series, I had hesitations about the first Monk book, "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse". Most of them had to do with Natalie's being portrayed as a breast-obsessed, shallow female main character. Being a female myself, I love reading about female lead characters - and get frustrated when authors (primarily male authors) turn them into brainless twits. I found it to be quite unfaithful to the TV show to change Natalie's personality like that. I was very pleased to find that in this second book, Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii, Natalie is portrayed a bit more like the "real Natalie" of the show. There is progress, but there are still issues.
Natalie is trying to get away for a week to Hawaii to be in a friend's wedding. Lee Goldberg (the author) is the one who sent Monk to Mexico in the TV series, so now he's sent Monk to another foreign location. I appreciate the fish-out-of-water aspect of this - but a lot of what makes Monk so wonderful to me is the interplay of the main characters, and once Monk leaves town, you lose 3/5ths of the main cast. In any case, Monk takes medication to survive the plane flight. This "see Monk as a loose, wild guy" was already done in a TV episode, so I was glad that it was only a brief highlight to the book, and not the key joke. Once they land, Monk is back to his old (wonderful) self.
There's a brief situation with the groom of the wedding that is so obvious and loudly telegraphed that I was very glad that that, too, was over with quickly. Then we move on to the main plot line - the death of a rich, old woman. There's her much-younger husband - and pretty much nobody else - as a supsect. Monk and Natalie have to deal with Mustangs that keep having issues, geckos that cover the walls and ocean water that fish pee in (oh, the horrors!) before solving the murder.
There's also a psychic in the same hotel who continually intrudes into the investigation, making Natalie both nervous and strangely comforted with his information about her dead husband. She desperately wants to believe he can really talk to the departed, and bring her some peace about her life. Monk has other theories about how the psychic makes his guesses.
There were moments that had me laugh with their dead-on portrayals, particularly of Lt. Disher and Stottlemeyer. Unfortunately, they don't show up until the very end of the book. I really miss them in the story line. The main story, all taking place in Hawaii with a Hawaiian detective, reads primarily as a travel guide to the island. There are many long descriptions of the glorious sunsets, glorious waterfalls and glorious oceans. The main plotline was quite transparent and it's embarassing that Monk made a mistake. I usually like mysteries that are less telegraphed - and to have *Monk* ignore clues and consider certain things as just random was very odd.
Also, although Natalie's obsessions with small breasts from book 1 are certainly toned down, and her general sensibilities are improved, she is still shown as quite shallow. Here's just one example. Monk and Natalie have a meeting with the prime suspects - an important confrontation. Our dynamic duo walk out the door once the meeting is complete. Natalie's first sentence is:
"What did you think of Roxanne's breasts?"
Good God Almighty. Apparently Natalie wanted to know if the "hooters" (her word) were real. By the time a few chapters later that she says that "all women over the age of 18" are obsessed with their stomach flatness, I had resigned myself to this. Remember, Natalie is raising a teenage daughter. Girls and women get enough negative body-image promotions from ad agencies. It's a shame that a *good* role model (i.e. Natalie) is deliberately being twisted to be shallow.
In addition, the book seems to be kicking up a romantic interest between the two. Natalie is kissing Monk on the forehead. Monk is massaging lotion into Natalie's back. It made me very uncomfortable, because this is *not* happening in the actual TV show - at least not this blatantly. I understand that Natalie is a warm person ... but this crosses a line. No matter how warm I was, I wouldn't be kissing my boss. It's not appropriate.
I am really trying not to be harsh on this book series. I love Monk, it is one of my favorite TV shows. I love mystery novels, and read a large number of them. I realize that a certain class of mystery novels are meant to be light summer reading, not masterful tomes of inner meaning. I think the grating problem here is that the TV show is great *because* of the characters, and because of Monk's keen insight. Therefore, to have the female character damaged like this - deliberately - makes no sense to me. If she was simply written as shown in the TV show, I'd be thrilled! I'd read thousands of books and be eager for more. Instead, the author *added* a new personality which is almost counter to the TV show portrayal. It would be like writing a Sherlock Holmes mystery which made Dr. Watson into someone who pimps prostitutes on the side, and oh he's now giving Holmes foot massages and kisses on the forehead, too. It is completely unnecessary to add these new personality quirks, and really detracts from the character who had already been established.
If this book was written in the exact same words - but without Natalie's breast and body commentary - I could give it 5/5 stars. I would be willing to overlook Monk's lapses as due to his being so uncomfortable about being stuck on Hawaii. If I could plead with the author, it would be to please make Natalie more true to the series with future books. If she was shown in the series to be shallow and vain, then fine, her book personae would be "proper" being like that. But she is not that way in the TV series, and therefore the book version of Natalie should not be either.
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