Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mr. Monk Goes To Germany; Forgotten Books

There is only one person in the world who would summon the police to report the theft of a missing sock. A left sock at that. That person would be the one and only Adrian Monk and the event would of course be reported by his winsome assistant Natalie.

For me the only thing more fun than watching Monk is reading the adventures Lee Goldberg creates for him. The books set a high standard from the git-go and Monk Goes To Germany is my favorite so far.

An eleven fingered man? Monk's shrink having to miss appointments so he can fly to Germany for long-planned conference? Monk and Natalie hopping a plane and flying to Germany so Monk can keep his shrink appointments? And the eleven fingered man keeping company with Monk's very own shrink, the same eleven fingered man who may well have murdered Monk's wife?

As usual Mr. Goldberg not only keeps the story rolling, he also gives us a plenty of smiles and out-loud laughs along the way. This time he gives a sense of a foreign milieu as well, some very sly travel commentary from time to time.

The Monk books take a series that if one of the best on TV and makes it even better. No small accomplishment. I can't wait for the next one.


Border Town Girl is a good example of how pulp crime fiction changed after the big war. The mark of Cain was on it for one thing and in Linda, the second of the two novellas in this Gold Medal by John D. MacDonald, we see a kind of inverted Cain, Double Indemity told from the victims's point of view if you will.

This is one of JDM's most striking plots and is handled in a voice that reflects what he once said about his audience, "I write books for men who carry their lunch in buckets." This is an Everyman who is so decent he doesn't realize what's going on until it's too late. And here we have not only the femme fatale but her male counterpoint as well. The writing and the characterization ares strong, clear and compelling. An exciting read.

The director Nathaniel Gutman turned this into a fine B with Virginia Madsen in the lead and the narrator played with surprising skill by Richard Thomas. It's available on DVD and should be on TV much more often than it has been.

Border Town Girl, the title novella, is more conventional Fifties crime fiction but is a muscular adventure tale ripe with sex, twisted violence and JDM's painterly descriptions of life on the Tex-Mex border. There is one of his best man-woman relationships, as well. Far from being the swaggering Trav, our man here is saved by an impoverished young Mexican woman we really come to like and admire. The descriptions of her sad and often dangerous life play to JDM's unequaled skills in giving readers the sights, smells and ambience of his settings.

Not a masterpiece by any means but the kind of vital pulp storytelling I'll never tire of.


Fred Blosser said...

In many of JDM's pulp novellas that I've read, the hero is a damaged soul, and the story is essentially his renewal or return from the dead with the help of a loving woman. BORDER TOWN GIRL is excellent. I remembered (and IMDB confirms) that there was an earlier (1973) TV movie based on "Linda," with Stella Stevens in the title role. I don't recall the Virginia Madsen version but I dimly recall the earlier flick.

Anonymous said...

It's a sin that so many people have never heard of JDM, and one of my regrets in life is just as I was getting published in mystery fiction, he died before I ever had a chance to meet him.