Category: Book Review

Book Review: Mister Monk Goes to the Firehouse


Cause I think you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.
-Lyrics from “When I’m Gone” from “Mr. Monk and the End.” by Randy Newman

True to the song, I’ve been missing Adrian Monk. Watching Elementary and it’s much more forced dynamic has made me appreciate Monk even more. It’s been nine years since his last new case aired on USA and there’s been no follow up TV movies or specials that many had hoped for, even with the proliferation of original streaming content in a world where there’s going to be a YouTube series “Kobra Kai” featuring Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults. And we can’t get a Monk movie made?

However, Monk had adventures that were not on television, but rather in a series of novelizations. I reviewed one when I was first watching the series and thought it was okay, so I gladly picked up another one to get a much needed Monk fix.

The plot of this book was the basis of the TV episode, “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” but this book stands on its own, particularly since the blindness plot isn’t used.

Mr. Monk’s apartment is being fumigated and he’s so OCD even 4-star hotels can’t meet his standards and a 5-star hotel is out because it’s an odd number. So desperate to end a series of embarrassing and tedious visits to hotel rooms, his assistant Natalie Teager invites Monk to stay with her and he agrees before realizing what she’s saying.

At Natalie’s house, Monk finds Natalie’s daughter Julie wants to hire him to investigate the case of firehouse dog who was murdered while the firefighters were out fighting a blaze in the neighborhood. Mr. Monk visits the scene of the fire, where an elderly woman died. The police assumed it was an accident, but Monk proves it murder. So he’s soon investigating the killing of the woman as well as the dog.

This is a pretty solid book. The mystery’s nice and involved with lots of texture, twists, and features, as well as a few nice side mysteries for Monk to solve along the way. It’s also a case that doesn’t end when Monk knows who “the guy” is as he has to put in a lot of work to prove it.

The overall story is pretty well-balanced. There’s some really good humor that captures Mr. Monk’s OCD nature, such as when he deals with Natalie’s cracked dishes by throwing them all out. Yet, it also captures the more endearing aspect of him such as Mr. Monk’s childlike joy at arriving at the firehouse. Reactions to Monk vary from kind tolerance and respect to the rude, disrespectful annoyance from impatient people in a hurry.

There are also some good side characters in the story such as the very lovable Firefighter Joe.

The book is told from Natalie’s point of view, which means we don’t get to see Monk interacting on his own with characters such as his therapist Dr. Kroger. Natalie is a very empathetic person and that helps readers connect with the story. Probably the biggest downside to Natalie as she’s written is that she editorializes everything and could go off on tangents. Thankfully there aren’t too many of those.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book for those wanting a good Monk fix.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Book Review: The Uncomplaining Corpses

The Uncomplaining Corpses is the third Michael Shayne novel and finds him having married the nineteen-year-old Phyllis he’d helped in the previous two novels. A rich man asks him to send a man to steal his wife’s jewel case in exchange for a thousand dollars that will be inside the case, so the rich man can keep the jewels and collect the insurance money. Shayne isn’t interested in participating in insurance fraud, but an ex-con needing money comes by. Shayne has the idea of sending the ex-con out to steal the $1000 without taking the jewel case, thus ripping off the unscrupulous rich man.

However, things go horribly wrong. The ex-con is shot by the husband who claims he found him standing over his wife’s body. Now Shayne’s license is at risk and to save it he has to find the killer.

While I thought in the first Shayne book, Halliday was trying to create a knock off of Sam Spade, this feels like a different spin on the Thin Man. Halliday is pretty effective. Phyllis is likable and precocious and willing to do what it takes to get her husband, including putting herself in harms way, perfectly consistent with the way she was written in the previous book. Shayne is perfectly relatable as a newly married man getting accustomed to married life and happy with his life. He’s not a caricature nor does he have that, “Newlywed but steadfastly refusing to be happy” feeling of Philip Marlowe in Poodle Springs. The book also has some fun moments and zaniness in the solution.

However, the book’s failing is that it’s cast of suspects are completely forgettable stock characters. The mystery is not one of Shayne’s smartest, and Shayne behaves too much like a cartoon, particularly when he’s manhandling the Miami Chief of Police Peter Painter.

Still, this is an enjoyable little mystery that, despite its failings, offers a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle.

Graphic Novel Review: The Saint: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

This book is a graphic novel based on a short story from the early days of Leslie Charteris’ writing the Saint. This story is from 1931 and finds the Saint on the trail of an adrenaline junkie named Miles Hallin who has a series of near misses with death that leave him richer and someone else dead. The Saint suspects foul play and when one of his friends is killed in one of Hallin’s incidents the Saint vows to ensure the man who wouldn’t die does.even if it comes at the hands of the Saint.

This is a fairly good story for Moonstone to use. Even though, it was written in 1931 before noir really became a thing, it does look nice as a black and white noir comic and it has a great deal of atmosphere. The graphic novel is around 50 pages long and can easily be read in a single reading. Most of the plot works quite well. I did have a couple quibbles with the art. First of all, there’s one scene in the book where the Saint and Hallin fight and it’s really unclear what’s supposed to be happening. In addition, the cover with bony skeleton hands covering a woman’s eyes has nothing to do with the plot but Moonstone chose it because (I’m guessing here) it fits with some of their more supernatural styles.

Still, this is an enjoyable comic adaptation of a Saint adventure and a fun way to experience a 1930s mystery story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

What Makes Death on the Nile a Masterpiece

There are many good pieces of detective fiction out there. You read the book, you watch the movie, and it’s a good time.

Then there are stories that are a cut above. You read the book, and you want to watch the adaptations or vice versa. The story’s so enchanting, the characters so compelling, the themes so powerful that you just can’t get enough of it.

One such story for me is, Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I watched the two filmed adaptations, I listened to the audio drama by the BBC, and then I read the book.

Knowing the ending and who did it didn’t “spoil the novel,” it allowed me to read it in a different way. Rather than focusing on whodunit, I could look for the subtle hints in structure and plot that pointed to the murder, and enjoy the atmosphere and find the themes that really make the book special and why it’s a masterpiece by the mistress of the genre, Agatha Christie.

Fair warning. I will be discussing the ending, so if you don’t know how it ends, I would recommend not reading any further until you’ve experienced the story. If you don’t want to read the novel, I’d recommend checking out the BBC Radio 4 version for accuracy or for pure entertainment value, the 1978 film version with Peter Ustinov is a delight.

1) The Mystery is Brilliantly Conceived and Executed

A detective novel can be more than a good mystery, but it also has to be a good mystery to be a good novel. Otherwise, it’s a bait and switch.

Death on Nile is definitely a brilliantly plotted story. There are plenty of clues as well as red herrings. The actual solution is one that is easily missed because Poirot makes a statement that seems to rule out the actual solution. But both Poirot and the reader make a mistaken assumption of something we didn’t actually see.

The book can trick readers, but it still plays fair in doing so. The solution really only surprises the reader (and to a degree Poirot) because of an incorrect but understandable conclusion. It’s a wonderfully written chase.

2) Lynette Ridgeway Doyle is a complicated tragic character:

Every murder mystery requires a corpse. In some stories, that’s pretty much all the victim is. However, the main victim is Lynette Ridgeway Doyle –and later Doyle is far more than that.

One big advantage of reading the book over adaptations of it is that you get a better sense of who Lynette Ridgeway Doyle is. It’s easy to define her as simply being a rich woman who could have married any man she wanted but instead stole the fiancé of her good friend Jacqueline Belfour.

Yet, if you read the book, you get a sense that while this was something she did, it wasn’t the totality of who she was. She was diligent in business, and responsible in the way she took care of and tried to help those who were dependent on her. Her friend describes her as a “beneficent tyrant.” She was very much like the best of the gentry of a prior era..

However, she’s fundamentally destroyed by her own pride, even before she makes the decision to snatch Simon Doyle away from her poorer friend Jacqueline. She’s wooed by the Lord Windlesham who really was fond of her. However, she rejects his advances because they both have country places. His having been in the family for centuries and hers she built herself. She feared going from being Queen to being Queen consort. She never alleges Lord Windlesham doesn’t love her. Part of her attraction to Simon Doyle is not only his looks, but the fact he was poor and that she could dominate the relationship easily.

Her decisions to go specifically after her good friend’s beau despite knowing how little she had and how much he meant to her was her truly selfish moment. Poirot condemns it, drawing the parallel between her decision and that of King David’s decision to sleep with Bathsheba in the book of biblical book of 2nd Samuel and the parable the prophet Nathan spoke to David. Poirot refuses to work for her but he does try to stop what’s coming by approaching Jacqueline Belfour.

As the book’s events unfold, Lynette pays the price for her actions. Her ex-friend stalks her and her husband, reminding of her guilt, and on her final voyage she finds herself “surrounded by enemies” as she puts it. As we learn later, while her husband Simon pretends to adore her, it’s all a rouse. He resented her and only married her so he could murder her and take her money. In the end, she’s killed while she sleeps by the man who she thought loved her. At the end of her book, her murder is the talk of the town at the ship’s port of call, but then is subsumed in other news and gossip of the day as she’s quickly forgotten along with her wealth, charm, and beauty.

3) Poirot Tries to Use His Powers to Prevent a Murder

This book raises a fair question for Poirot. If your powers of deduction and observation are so great, why do you only use them to catch murderers rather than preventing murders? The nature of Poirot’s adventures is that he’s usually already present when the murder occurs. Aren’t there warning signs?

Yes, there are and Poirot spots them and tries to head off the murder before it happens. His plea to Jacqueline De Bellefort to turn back and not let evil enter her heart is truly a memorable moment where Poirot makes every effort to dissuade the young woman from the path he sees her on but to no avail.

The book shows that Poirot’s gift and experience may give him an inkling that something bad is going to happen, but it doesn’t make him psychic so he knows every detail of a person’s life and what’s already been planned. Nero Wolfe often said that there was no way he could prevent murder, and this book shows why he made that assertion. Poirot had no clue the degree to which the conspiracy had already been developed, nor how it would be carried out. He only saw the public face. He tried to intervene. He did all he could, but he wasn’t enough.

4. The Book Explores the Perils of Love

Romantic love is exalted throughout literature. It’s a virtue in and of itself. This make’s Hercule Poirot’s statement when he sees Simon and Jacqueline out before Simon goes over to Linnet and he observed that she cared too much for Simon and that it was “not safe.”

At first, this comes out in what appears to be her obsessive following of Simon and Linnet around during their honeymoon, but at the end of the story it’s revealed that when Linnet became interested in him, while Simon was irritated by her efforts, he thought of the idea of marrying Linnet, murdering her within the year, and then marrying Jacqueline and living off her money. Jacqueline goes along with the scheme because she knows Simon will get caught if he tries to attempt the murder on his own because he doesn’t have the brains for it.

This shows Jacqueline cared more for Simon than he did for her because he came up with and was prepared to pursue such an unnatural scheme. It also shows Simon wasn’t worth that level of devotion. I’m not sure whether Christie was going for this, but Simon becomes the male answer to the Femme Fatale: a good-looking guy who attracts the ladies and leads them to ruin.

It also shows the dangers of love when it overrides everything. When it’s freed from ethics, morals, and even self-respect, romantic love can become poisonous.

In Jacqueline’s case, she killed three people (including Simon to save him from facing prosecution in a third world country) before killing herself.

Christie tries to balance the scales in a very unusual way on the whole issue of love. The most bizarre part of Death on the Nile is that two couples get together and get engaged. The Karnak, a ship that has three murders occur on board, becomes a love boat.

The romances, while not particularly realistic, serve as a counterbalance to the unhealthy main relationships as they have a redemptive quality to them. Tim Allerton forsakes his thieving ways to marry Rosalie, whose alcoholic mother was the victim of one of the murders. The other romance is surprising. Ferguson has been trying to court Cornelia Robson, an honest and straightforward woman, in the most obnoxious way possible. He’s a self-styled communist and social radical, which her wealthy cousin whom she’s travelling with would not approve of. Poirot discovers that Ferguson is actually a wealthy aristocrat who her cousin would approve of. With Ferguson’s true identity revealed, Cornelia agrees to marry Dr. Besner instead because she likes him and finds his profession interesting. It’s such a wonderful twist that Cornelia remains true to her character as an honest and forthright person who pursues what she wants rather than falling for the wealthy guy who she thought was a low-born vulgar man just because he turned out to be a wealthy vulgar man.

Sadly, the screen adaptations have messed with these romances, including eliminating Cornelia’s character entirely from the 1978 film.

Overall, Death on the Nile can be enjoyed as just as the great mystery novel it is, but there are also some great depths to the story for those who want to find them.

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle. 

Graphic Novel Review: Mask of the Red Panda

The Mask of the Red Panda is based on the audio drama podcast written by Gregg Taylor. In this three-issue comic story, the Red Panda and Kit Baxter (aka the Flying Squirrel) investigate a series of strange murders that lead them into a battle with forces of supernatural evil and Nazis. The story’s set in the pulp fiction era, so of course Nazis.

The book captures the flow and spirit of the podcast adventures well bringing our heroes on to the comic page and into the visual media. It moves at a nice pace with plenty of action. I also like the way they deal with magic, but fight with a magic inhibitor device which stops the story from getting too spooky, weird, and out of its typical depth. It’s certainly a better take than many modern superhero stories which become some entirely different series when magical beings come a calling. The art is good and the coloring (while far from natural) isn’t unpleasant.

On the other hand, you might expect something more epic for the trade paperback from a long-running series. This is a decent three-issues story rather than something epic and grand that will make readers demand more Red Panda comics. In addition, some elements don’t quite transfer over from audio to the written page.

In the Red Panda, Kit is not only the Red Panda’s sidekick but his employee as his chauffeur, so she responds to many of his statements with, “Yes, Boss.” In the radio program, Andrea Lyons, the actress who plays her, communicates a lot of what Kit thinks through voice tone as she says it. So “Yes, Boss” can be an acknowledgment or agreement or it can be annoyance, humoring the Red Panda, or something else. You don’t get that sense of expression in the comic and so you have to guess and, without voice tone, “Yes, boss” can be a bit repetitive. In addition, while I appreciate her fighting spirit, there was one panel where I think she went a little too far.

Still, overall this is a decent and nicely written homage to the pulp era that brings a beloved audio drama character to life. If you like pulp heroes like the Shadow or Green Hornet, but would like something a tad less intense than those heroes’ current comic book offerings, this is a worthwhile read even if you haven’t listened to the podcast. If you’re a fan of the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel, this is a great opportunity to see them in a visual medium.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your kindle.