The story opens with Adrian Monk and Natalie Teeger at McKinley Park, assisting Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher on a homicide. A young female jogger has been found strangled to death, with her left shoe taken. With her body being in the dog park, Monk borrows a set of binoculars from Kent Milner, a fellow patrol officer, and quickly makes several deductions that might help in identifying the victim. This is just the third victim of an as-yet unnamed serial killer - two other women have been killed in identical fashion over the past month.
After Monk examines the crime scene, Stottlemeyer pulls Monk aside and warns him of an impending "Blue Flu." Contract negotiations between the police department and the mayor's office have just collapsed. With it being against the law for police officers to go on strike, they do the next best thing: they call in sick en masse. Because of this, it may be some time before Monk has another case.
The next day, Monk and Natalie go shopping for Julie's back-to-school wardrobe, and Monk unwittingly helps store security bust a shoplifting ring. While they are shopping, the Mayor appears on a TV and announces that a $250,000 reward will be issued to people whose information leads to the arrest of the serial killer, who has now been identified as the "Golden Gate Strangler".
The day after that, Monk and Natalie are summoned by Mayor Smitrovitch to City Hall, where he presents them with an audacious proposal: he wants to temporarily reinstate Monk to the police department, and make him acting captain of the homicide division. It is not to fulfill Monk's wish of getting his badge back, but to further progress on the Golden Gate Strangler investigation.
Natalie warns Monk not to accept, as she knows that the mayor is using Monk so he won't have to give in to the police union's demands; if he accepts, Monk will be despised by the entire department, from Stottlemeyer on down, as a "scab." But it's a losing argument, since Natalie knows all too well that there are two things Monk would walk barefoot through Hell to get: the solution to Trudy's murder, and his badge.
Monk accepts, and takes over the Robbery-Homicide division with Natalie, a skeleton crew of patrol officers, and a squad of three detectives to command, who like Monk were similarly suspended or retired for mental health reasons. Reviewing their files, Natalie observes that each of these new detectives has a mental health problem that makes Monk seem almost normal:
- Detective Jack Wyatt, a.k.a. "Mad Jack": His problem is serious anger control issues, and was terminated after the department lost several police brutality cases filed against him. He has a hair-trigger temper and a habit of responding to any situation, from the life-threatening to the merely annoying, with swift and blinding violence. He is assisted by his anger management counselor, Arnie, who Wyatt has shot on several occasions.
- Detective Cynthia "Cindy" Chow is a paranoid schizophrenic, who spent the long first phase of her career on undercover assignments, the details of which are still confidential (much of her file is blacked out). After a lifetime of looking over her shoulder (literally and figuratively) she has become a jumpy conspiracy theorist; she believes, among other things, that the government is watching her with hidden cameras in her computer monitor, and that aliens are out to abduct and impregnate her. She is assisted by her psychiatric nurse, Jasper Perry, who helps keep her paranoia under control and views her as a fertile source for his doctoral thesis.
- Frank Porter, arguably the most normal of Monk's new skeletal squad, is a veteran ex-detective with twenty years of experience working and cracking homicide cases (some of his skills are as good as Monk's). He is now well into his eighties and was forced to retire with the onset of senility. He is often unable to remember his own name, or where he was the day before (in fact, once when sitting on a crate at a crime scene, he thinks he is the killer, and he also forgets Natalie's name). Helping him out is his bored but dutiful granddaughter, Sparrow Porter.
Monk and Natalie's first day is busy. It starts when a young astrologer named Allegra Doucett is stabbed and killed in her house. When Monk and Natalie arrive at the scene, they meet Cindy Chow, who tells them the approximate time of death, and notes that Allegra was stabbed multiple times with an icepick. Monk observes the scene, and learns about the astrology chart on Allegra's computer. He then notices that the towel rack in the bathroom has been broken off. When he and Natalie leave the house, Monk explains to Natalie that the murder was premeditated: there were no signs of forced entry at all, and no signs that the victim put up a struggle with her killer. They question Madam Frost, a rival astrologer who lived across the street from Allegra, who calls the late astrologer a fraud.
After questioning Madam Frost, Monk decides to head back to police headquarters, and casually mentions to Natalie that her car has been towed. Natalie angrily confronts the patrol officer who gave the okay for her car to be towed and she quickly demands the officer's car keys.
No sooner have they gotten into the patrol car than they are called to the scene of a hit-and-run elsewhere. When Monk and Natalie arrive at the crime scene, most of the onlookers they see are being attracted to a building fire just around the corner, tsemming from a car that crashed through a storefront. They meet Mad Jack Wyatt, who rambles a bit about how the car that went through the window was a car he shot the tires of, because the driver was a suspect in some recent muggings. Monk gets Jack to brief him on the homicide victim, an architect by the name of John Yamada. He learns that no witnesses can positively identify the car that was used in the hit-and-run. Monk also notices a clue suggesting that the attack was deliberate: the pattern of the death car's skid marks shows that the car double parked and waited for Yamada to cross the street before the driver floored on the gas pedal.
Then they get called to the third scene, where they run into Frank Porter for the second time that day. A waitress named Diane Truby has been pushed in front of a moving Muni bus. Monk examines the scene and concludes that the killer acquired a crate from a nearby grocery store, set it down in an alleyway, waited for the victim to stroll by, and then pushed her into the path of the bus.
Julie is pleased with most of the clothes Natalie bought her, but is furious at one or two out-of-style items included in the mix. During their argument, Monk has an epiphany, and asks Julie to come to the station with them (Julie has a ball riding in the car, getting handcuffed and pretending she's a psychopath on her way to get the third degree). At the station, she examines photos of the running shoes the Golden Gate Strangler's victims were wearing and confirms Monk's theory: they are all in brand-new condition, but they are last year styles – meaning they were sold out of the back of a truck. Since that is something all the victims have in common, Monk tells Porter to start compiling a list of itinerant shoe vendors, in the hopes that that might identify a suspect. Monk and Natalie are then forced to temporarily leave Julie behind at the station while they respond to a robbery at a convenience store at which a cashier has been shot dead. Monk determines that the dead cashier's coworker shot him, and then staged a robbery to pocket money from the till.
Monk soon realizes that he can't afford to investigate every case himself, like he usually does. He calls on Stottlemeyer, who gives Monk some pieces of advice on how to be captain – the most important of which is to match each case to the talents of his subordinates. He also encourages Monk to realize that each of his detectives, like Monk, have their own "gifts" to go with their "curses": Porter is one of the most thorough investigators the SFPD has ever had, and, despite his senility, has a nearly flawless memory when it comes to the facts of a case (a flawless memory that can rival that of Monk's at times); Cindy Chow has a natural brilliance for seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated persons, places, or events that tie a complicated case together (in other words, she sees conspiracies everywhere, and often spots a real one); and Wyatt is a fearless, dogged cop who doesn't let anything get in the way of closing a case.
Monk and Natalie eventually track down Max Collins, a client of Allegra Doucett's who lost a lot of money due to her practices. He admits to having been in the neighborhood when she was killed, and admits that he had a PI do some digging on Allegra. Afterwards, Natalie gets pulled over while driving Monk to their next crime scene - the murder of a man named Scott Eggers. When they get to the scene, Monk discovers that Eggers's attacker started the deed by striking him over his back, knocking him to the ground, then suffocated him with a bag from the trash can. Monk is suspicious: none of the likely suspects are the killers. And if the murder was premeditated, why did the attacker grab a plastic bag that was lying nearby instead of bringing a weapon with him?
Three days after the last Strangler victim was found, a man named Bertram Gruber enters the police station and announces that he can identify the Strangler. He describes seeing the attacker leaving the scene, and getting into a certain model of car. He even got a partial license plate number. This allows the police to identify an itinerant shoe vendor named Charlie Herrin – which can't be a coincidence. Monk and Wyatt organize a SWAT team and raid Herrin's apartment later that day. After Herrin momentarily holds Monk hostage with a pistol to his head, the SWATs disarm him and take him into custody. Evidence found at the apartment link him back to the Strangler killings.
However, Monk is suspicious of Gruber: in his statement, he said Herrin was carrying a left shoe as he got into his car. He also said he saw Herrin leaving the dog park. These are two details that the police haven't released to the media.
At a press conference, Gruber receives the reward, and a pat on the back from the Mayor. Monk is also asked to give a speech, but falls apart when he sees the microphone at the podium is askew. The Mayor is not happy with Monk, even as tensions rise between Monk and the absent officers; with Monk on a roll, it looks like the Flu will not be ending anytime soon.
But Monk is still torn up about his failure to solve the other homicides; unrelated though they may appear, Monk insists that they must be connected somehow; three of the M.O.'s are curiously improvisational, yet not so – i.e., the killer appears to be selecting his victims with care, yet killing them by whatever means happen to be at hand.
When Porter mentions, in an apparent non sequiter, that three of the victims are all 44 years old – and in fact, were born on the same day – Monk solves the case.
Here's What Happened(I)Edit
Allegra Doucet had a morning appointment with one of her clients, and began drawing up a star chart for him. The client excused himself to use the bathroom, and that's when the killer entered and murdered Allegra. The client witnessed the murder, and scrambled out through the bathroom window. The killer didn't see who the client was, but extrapolated certain details from the unfinished star chart – his birthdate, and the fact that he was born in, and still lives in, San Francisco. Now, the killer has been going around town, trying to eliminate the witness.
While Monk is delivering the summation at Allegra's house, another homicide is reported: Officer Kent Milner, a hard-working rookie police officer that Monk and Natalie met at the scene of Herrin's third and last victim, and later met during the crime scene investigation of Scott Eggers's murder, has been found shot dead next to his police cruiser in an abandoned warehouse. With an officer down, Stottlemeyer, Disher, and the rest of the department return to duty, full-time, to catch the murderer. Somewhat to his surprise, Monk is told that he is still captain, responsible for solving the quadruple homicide. Monk notices some interesting clues while looking at the scene: the first is that Milner never drew his pistol or even undid his holster, suggesting that he didn't anticipate trouble, and may have been meeting with a snitch who set him up. The other is a magazine Milner kept in his cruiser, in which he marked down a couple of pages....for home listings and cars he could not possibly afford on his salary.
Monk's evidence in the Allegra Doucett homicide case leads them back to Madam Frost. Monk reveals that she did it because Allegra was stealing all of Madam Frost's customers. This explains the lack of a struggle when Allegra was stabbed. Afterwards, Madam Frost heard the toilet flush, and realized that Allegra's client was in the bathroom. By the time she got there, the witness had fled out the bathroom window. However, Madam Frost learned everything about the witness apart from the witness's name from the computer chart on Allegra's killer. She used the computer records to look up all the information she needed to locate her next three victims. Evidence at all three of the crime scenes of the collateral victims suggests Madam Frost's involvement: Monk recalls that she was walking up to her house when he and Natalie questioned her, because the police had blocked off her street with their usual vehicles, forcing her to park the car she'd just used to kill John Yamada elsewhere. Monk also realizes that Frank Porter was right when he said that Diane Truby's attacker may have had arthritis or bad knees. It means Madam Frost used the crate to sit on while she waited for her third victim to stroll by the alley. Additionally, it explains why the Scott Eggers murder looked so sloppily committed - Madam Frost used her cane to knock him down, then used a garbage bag to suffocate him.
Elsewhere, a search led by Wyatt turns up the witness, who admits to seeing Frost murder Allegra. However, he never came forward because he feared that an illegal movie bootlegging operation he was running at his house would have been discovered.
Turning his attention to the Milner homicide, Monk asks for an update. Stottlemeyer has no idea what to look for: Millner was a junior cop, too junior to have made any serious enemies, or to have been on the trail of anything dangerous. His arrest record shows that all of the arrests Milner made in his short career were for routine traffic violations and small offenses that carried a maximum penalty of one night in a holding cell. Monk looks over his brief arrest sheet, and notices that Milner arrested Bertram Gruber for a minor drug offense several months ago – and solves the case.
Here's What Happened(II)Edit
Somehow, Milner identified Charlie Herrin as the Golden Gate Strangler. His duty was to arrest Herrin, and he would have covered his career with glory, but as a city servant, he was ineligible to collect the reward. Because he had a wife and two children to support, instead he recruited Gruber to finger Herrin and split the reward – only Gruber got greedy, and killed Milner to keep it all for himself.
To test their theory, Monk and Natalie interview Charlie Herrin in jail. He identifies Milner from a picture and explains that Milner was the cop who pulled him over a few days ago after he got into a minor fender-bender, while Herrin happened to have his latest "trophy" with him. Though Milner clearly saw the evidence that could convict Herrin, for some reason, he ended up not giving him a ticket, nor did he arrest Herrin – not, as Monk and Natalie sadly realize, not because he didn't recognize the clue, but because he decided to go for the money rather than the glory.
Monk, Natalie, and Stottlemeyer confront Gruber at the marina, where he is shopping for a new motor yacht. Gruber panics, pulls a pistol from his pocket, and grabs Monk as a hostage. Monk, who is already seasick from just standing on the pier, and who hates having just been held hostage for the second time on the job, begs to be shot. Then he throws up, which distracts Gruber long enough for Stottlemeyer to disable him with a shot to the shoulder. The pistol is identified to have been the one that was used to shoot Milner.
The day is saved, but the mayor is enraged to learn that the man he so publicly congratulated and rewarded has been exposed by Monk as a fraud and a cop-killer. The police union also becomes aware of this, and thus applies extra pressure at the bargaining table, and the mayor caves in to most of their demands, in exchange for the police department covering up the incident by reporting to the papers that they knew Gruber was guilty from the beginning and were working with the mayor as part of a sting operation.
As the Blue Flu ends, Stottlemeyer regrets to tell Monk that both his promotion and his reinstatement have been yanked. Monk is heartbroken and silent, but Natalie is furious and vocal: Monk solved every case, saved lives, and effectively got the police the deal they wanted, but those means nothing to both the mayor's office and the department. Stottlemeyer says that she and Monk still crossed a line by "scabbing," and the department can't forgive that.
Monk's team is likewise out, but they take it better than their Captain: in fact, they are forming their own detective agency, and make sure to tell Monk that they are honored to have served under him – even Jack Wyatt, who unexpectedly provides a sage piece of comfort to Monk: getting reinstated would have meant a drastic change, and Monk hates change. Monk brightens immediately. Natalie asks her three fellow assistants to keep in touch.
Background Information and NotesEdit
- The three assistants reappear briefly in the opening chapter of Mr. Monk Goes to Germany, where it is revealed that they and Natalie have kept in touch, and meet for coffee about once a month to swap stories and sympathies. They have also opened the group to other assistants, including Burton "Gus" Gustor of Psych.
- Elements of the "Here's What Happened" were adapted into the episode "Mr. Monk and the Badge," in a manner similar to that in which elements from "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse" were adapted into the episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing." In a way, Jack Wyatt's prediction comes true, since, at the end of "Mr. Monk and the Badge," Monk decides that being reinstated is too big a change for him.
- Many of the characters in Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu reappeared in "Mr. Monk and the Badge," with different names: Bertrum Gruber became window washer Mikhail Almonov; Officer Kent Milner became Officer Russell DiMarco; and the Golden Gate Strangler becomes the Pickaxe Killer.
- In Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop, the events of this novel are alluded back to when Stottlemeyer, having just terminated Monk's consulting contract, reminds Natalie about the time when she and Monk were scabbing behind his desk.
- The way the Yamada murder works is very similar to an attempt on Randy's life in "Mr. Monk Goes to a Wedding," as both involve a driver idling for a while and waiting for their victim to come by before flooring it.
- Detective Mad Jack Wyatt seems to based on Dirty Harry.
- Had Officer Milner chosen to arrest Charlie Herrin rather than go for the reward money, Herrin would join a list of other infamous serial killers or criminals who were caught through a traffic violation, like Ted Bundy and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
- In real life, it would be very unlikely that Monk or any of the discharged detectives on his squad would get deputized for the length of a police strike, no matter how depleted the SFPD's ranks were. More than likely, the city of San Francisco would borrow officers from the California Highway Patrol, the Oakland Police Department, the San Jose Police Department, or any other police force in the Bay Area.
- Natalie burns off the speeding ticket she gets for driving 27 MPH in a 25 MPH zone by attending traffic school. However, she could have easily have had her ticket dismissed in other ways - such as contesting the infraction in traffic court, or filing a complaint against the ticketing officer.
- Generally, police are supposed to pull over anyone who drives even a mile over the speed limit, yet they normally will let people driving no less than 5 MPH over the limit off easily. In the scene where Natalie is pulled over and ticketed, she would have fallen under this general rule.
- When they go to the prison, it's implied that Natalie is searched by a male guard. Natalie is a woman, so in real life, this would never happen. She would have been searched by an officer of the same gender.
- The officers in the raid on Herrin's apartment break procedure in one key spot: Herrin has Monk at gunpoint and is threatening to shoot him unless the cops lower their weapons. The cops do so. In real life, cops are trained to never take their gun off a hostage taker. This is in part because in real life, usually the hostage taker, barring the occasional ones who are willing to give their life, doesn't want to shoot the hostage much more than the heroes do. If they were to kill the hostage because the heroes refused to put down their weapons, there is suddenly nothing to keep the heroes from using said weapons on them, or they will end up with a dead hostage and a dead hero.