Los Angeles author Lee Goldberg is best known as a writer for such TV series as Monk, Diagnosis: Murder, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Spenser: For Hire and The Glades. But he also spent four years concocting tie-in novels for Diagnosis: Murder, and has since transferred his talents to Monk, the 2002-09 comedy-drama that starred Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive private sleuth assisting the San Francisco Police Department with its most baffling homicide cases. Mr. Monk on the Couch is Goldberg’s new, 12th outing for Adrian Monk and his assistant, Natalie Teeger, but he still has three more books and another year to go in his current contract for tie-ins.
Read the last Rap Sheet on Robert B. Parker's Sixkill.
You began writing the Monk novels in 2006 while the TV series was still on, but you’ve continued them since. Did the show’s end free you to go your own way with these books?
The biggest difference is that I’m not competing with new episodes every week anymore. By that I mean, I don’t have to worry that what I’m writing now will conflict with episodes they’re doing down the line, or that a book I’ve finished, that doesn’t come out for months, will be “contradicted” by something that airs on Friday. And I’m not trying to outsmart the writing staff by coming up with a storyline that hasn’t occurred to them yet.
So now you can do with the characters what you wish.
But I still feel an obligation not to veer too far from what has been established in the series. Luckily for me, Monk creator Andy Breckman really shook things up in the final episode, giving me the opportunity to take some creative risks. A lot of the conflict had disappeared among the four central characters—Monk, Natalie, SFPD Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer and Lt. Randy Disher.
But since Andy sent Disher off to New Jersey in the final episode, I have...brought in a new character, Lt. Amy Devlin, a former undercover narcotics officer. She is a tougher, edgier, less friendly and more competent counterpoint to Monk than Disher had been. Plus, let’s face it, Disher was lovable but not a very good cop. I wanted to bring in someone who was very good at her job so that I could create more conflict for Monk and Natalie. All the best comedy and drama comes out of conflict—you can’t go wrong adding more of it…
Also the solving of the murder of Monk’s wife allowed me to explore new aspects of Monk’s character. He’s got more balance in his life now that that mystery has been solved, and I wanted to deal with that and how it impacts his relationships with everybody else in his life.
The series focused primarily on Adrian Monk, but your books are told from Natalie’s first-person perspective. What affect has that had on your storytelling?
I think it humanizes Monk. It gives us a necessary distance and, at the same time, a perspective to frame what we’re seeing. In a way, Natalie’s eyes become the replacement for the TV screen that’s was usually between us and 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 shtick, and I think that’s important.
It’s also a conscious homage to Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, who were seen as well through the eyes of their assistants.
In Mr. Monk on the Couch, Natalie takes on a case of her own, investigating the supposedly natural death of an old seaman in a fleabag San Francisco hotel. Have you long wanted to test Natalie’s independent investigative talents?
It’s actually something that’s been evolving over the course of many books, quite consciously on my part. I just don’t think it’s believable that she could be alongside Monk for the solving of 100-plus mysteries and not pick up something along the way. And I don’t think she could do this job if, on some level, she didn’t like what she was doing. It really came to the forefront in the book Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop . That was the first time she solved the case before Monk...she just didn’t realize it! Monk helped her discover her inner detective in that story. After that, she began to see that maybe she not only has a talent for this, but that she actually enjoys it.
Are you already working on another Monk book?
It’s called Mr. Monk on Patrol. Monk and Natalie go to New Jersey to help Randy Disher, who is now chief of police of a small-town force. The mayor and the city council have all been arrested for corruption. Randy finds himself as interim mayor, and so he turns to Monk to help him run the police department. Before it’s over, Monk and Natalie find themselves as uniformed cops sharing a patrol car. Hijinks ensue.