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By Lee Goldberg

Obsidian, 2009
Hardcopy ($22.95)
ISBN: 978-0-451-22905-2

Signet (reprint/paperback), 2010 ($7.99)

ISBN-10: 0451230477
ISBN-13: 978-0451230478

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

It's Halloween, and Adrian Monk is miserable. He hates having his routine disturbed, hates having strangers ring his doorbell, and really hates it when an oversized and over-aged trick-or-treater in a bloody shirt shows up on his doorstep. As his assistant, Natalie, watches in amazement, Monk knocks the man to the ground and pronounces him a murderer. San Francisco police captain Leland Stottlemeyer, for whom Monk acts as a consultant, and his lieutenant, Randy Disher, interrupt their Halloween festivities to find out what's going on. Monk methodically lays out the clues that prove he is correct, and the killer is hauled off to jail.

Of course Monk can't stay in his house until all signs of the criminal's presence are eradicated. Natalie talks him out of burning it down, getting him to settle for refinishing the floor and repainting the walls. This necessitates his leaving home for a few days, and when Captain Stottlemeyer asks him to look into the murder of an old friend of his in the small town of Trouble, he accepts. Trouble was founded during the California Gold Rush days, and it remains much as it was over a hundred years ago. Monk is soon regretting his decision. The car is attacked by swarms of migrating butterflies, the streets of the town are unpaved, and everywhere around him is Nature, wild and disorderly and messy. The only saving grace in Trouble is the completely square house on a completely square lot with completely symmetrical landscaping. The house is now the local museum, but it was built by the town assayer in the 1850's.

The story opens with a journal entry written in 1855 by Abigail Guthrie, widow of a man who worked himself to death trying to find the gold in them there hills. It wasn't easy for a single woman to make a living back then, and she didn't have the money to go back to Kansas. She tried to survive by doing laundry, but in a town where few people bothered with bathing or wearing clean clothes, she had few customers. Just as she resigned herself to join the ranks of the sporting ladies, she was rescued by her best customer, the assayer, who needed an assistant to do the housekeeping, no strings attached. He was a neat, tidy, and kind man, and his name was Artemus Monk. He had a reputation around the area as an honest man. He also had an uncanny ability to solve crimes. Because of his unique skills, the townsfolk put up with his odd ways and his demands that people pick up after their horses and refrain from spitting tobacco anywhere but in a spittoon.

The book alternates seamlessly between the past and present. Monk has never been so far out of his element, but with the help of his able assistant Natalie and a whole lot of wet wipes he manages to not only solve the murder of the museum guard but also solves the case of a train robbery that took place decades ago. As to whether Artemus was a long-lost relation, you'll have to judge for yourself. This is a very enjoyable entry in the Monk books. Fans of the television show will be able to picture the character stumbling and bumbling his way through this confusing new setting and managing, as always, to solve the crime in his own special fashion.

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