Mr. Monk and the Two AssistantsI was really looking forward to this book. Natalie meets Sharona? Comparisons of their Monk-caring styles? Interactions between two women who are so similar but so different? It seemed a perfect basis for a story.
I realize books tend to go from "things are really rough" to "over time people get to know each other and understand each other" as a plot device. This book takes it to extremes. A similar situation sprung into mind while I was reading it. When Alien 3 came out, James Cameron was very upset that his favorite characters had been callously mistreated. I felt the exact same thing here. I'd always liked Sharona, and to have her treated as a pariah, and berated, grated on me a lot. Yes, Natalie "grows to tolerate her", but it doesn't make the first half of the book any more enjoyable.
The book has numerous "jab at the reader" moments. The most obvious one is when Natalie is taking about Sharona, and says "At first I felt like an actress brought in to replace a beloved character on a hit TV show." Jeez, that wasn't subtle! Her snottiness really is over the top. The book does try to "add context" to it by later on having Natalie talk about how Monk is being petty and childish when threatened by a rival, but it doesn't help much.
The book felt really rushed to me. There are many key moments that the storyline is being told straight out, rather than shown and experienced. There are really important scenes that seem extremely flat. I realized at one point - during a powerful, confrontational scene between Natalie and Sharona, that neither one was expressing any emotion, according to the dialogue. Natalie "said" something. Sharona "said" something. Natalie then "said" something. Nobody yelled, or groaned, or did anything but "said". I went back to the beginning of that chapter and began counting. Literally 50 "saids" in a row from start to end, and NOTHING else. It made what should have been a very powerful scene fall flat.
The milk fetish is brought up explicitly again, as the author tries to undo the mistake of a previous book where Monk (who never drinks milk) has some. The author also says in the prologue that he can't really be held accountable for discrepancies between his books and the TV series since they're written sort of simultaneously. That probably refers to another mistake in a previous book regarding the Captain's marriage.
But there was still something that really stood out to me, as a musician. At one point they talk about a keypad playing the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" - as 1212333. As far as I can tell, that won't play the song! It should be 3212333 starting with a 3. How can they have the song starting with a 1? Is this a different version of the song?
Also, maybe I'm just reading too many Spenser novels, but the scenes with Natalie and Sharona beating on gay people really bothered me a lot. It seemed completely inappropriate and out of character. I'm not saying books have to be completely PC, but it was uncomfortable to read.
So normally Monk falls into a "casual light read" for me, something I grab to pass two hours or so of time and relax. I expect the time to be enjoyable and non-grating. And there were several laugh-out-loud moments in here that the other people with me looked over to ask what was funny - so the book does have its good moments. I hesitated between 3 stars and 4 stars because of that. In the end, there were enough funny bits to kick it up to 4 stars.
Still, though, I really don't think they had to malign Sharona so much - that was unnecessarily nasty. I also don't think they had to go after the gay characters the way they did. But at least Natalie has more backbone than previous books, and her strange personality quirks of the previous books did not return, so I count those all as good things and am interested to see where the next book goes.
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