Adrian Monk and his assistant, Natalie Teeger, take Julie to the hospital after she breaks her wrist during a soccer game (though before they leave, Monk gives the other parents the satisfaction of exposing the other team's coach as a murderer). At the hospital, Monk is stunned to see his old assistant, Sharona, working as a nurse. She explains that after leaving Monk's employ to re-marry her ex-husband, Trevor Howe, and move to New Jersey, a friend of Trevor's from Los Angeles who owned a landscaping business offered Trevor the business. Trevor bought the business and the family moved to Los Angeles. It was a good thing until recently, when one of his clients, a professor named Ellen Cole, was found bludgeoned to death with a lamp in her house. Trevor has been accused of the murder, and Sharona has no trouble believing it, so she and Benjy have moved back up to San Francisco, with Benjy currently staying with Sharona's sister Gail.
Sharona doesn't hide the fact that she'd like her old job with Monk back, and before long there is open hostility between her and Natalie. To save her job, she works out a compromise: they will travel to Los Angeles so that Monk can see if Trevor is really guilty.
Monk, Natalie and Sharona drive to Los Angeles, arriving by nightfall. They meet Lieutenant Sam Dozier of the LAPD at an antiques store robbery. Here, Monk (wearing a gas mask due to the smog) exposes the owner's wife as the killer. They then travel to Ellen Cole's house. Monk examines the scene and concludes (somewhat to his own regret), that Trevor is innocent. They go on to question some of the people closest to the victim, on the chance that one of them might be the real killer. Later, Monk, Natalie and Sharona head down to a bookstore to question the person who found the evidence to "convict" Trevor, LAPD consultant Ian Ludlow, who is also a prolific mystery author (he is a household name everywhere, writing his Detective Marshak stories and publishing a new one every 90 days). He mentions the damning evidence, although Monk refuses to believe it. While they are at the bookstore, Natalie buys a few of Ludlow's titles, including his latest, Death Is the Last Word.
Sharona remains behind in Los Angeles, intending to do some asking around about Ellen Cole, while Monk and Natalie head back to San Francisco. On the way back, Monk looks through the Ludlow titles and only needs to read the first few pages of the books to solve their mysteries. Natalie berates him for ruining the plots, but Monk remarks that there's really no point to reading his books: after all, in San Francisco, he solves a lot of cases that are usually a lot more interesting and complicated than what Ludlow can conjure.
While Monk and Natalie have been away, Julie has been staying with Benjy. She remarks that they seem to have way too many similarities (including having lost a father), and doesn't want to become identical to him at any point soon.
The next few days go by with no incidents, as Monk recuperates from the smog in Los Angeles. Natalie briefly has a run in with Joseph Cochran, a firefighter she dated briefly during a different homicide investigation.
That Friday, when Natalie is leaving the house, her car starts leaking oil and she is forced to borrow a different car while repairs are done to her Jeep. After picking up Monk, they get called to Baker Beach on the west side of the city.
Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher are already at the crime scene when Monk and Natalie arrive. Monk notes that this is a nude beach, and is made very uncomfortable by the presence of nudists. They are shown the crime scene, which Stottlemeyer mentions as possibly being a crime scene but at the same time is possibly not one: a man has been found mauled to death, and his midsection is ripped open. The victim, according to Stottlemeyer, is a local shoe store employee named Ronald Webster, 37 years old. The medical examiner remarks that the cause of death was likely by drowning, and that the injuries he sustained are serious, but not fatal. Randy makes several wild guesses about what kind of animal could make the bite on Webster's body, but Monk determines the correct animal: an alligator. He notes that all of the teeth marks are identical, as alligators have teeth that are all perfectly identical. This is because alligators kill their victims by clasping them, and holding them underwater until they drown. He is reminded that alligators are not indigenous to San Francisco, and Monk, Natalie, Stottlemeyer and Disher are all certain that this is a homicide.
Even though they all know that this is a murder, keep in mind that the powers higher than Stottlemeyer don't have as much trust in Monk's abilities. As a result, Stottlemeyer will not be able to create a homicide task force for Ronald Webster until the medical examiner completes the autopsy.
In the meanwhile, Monk and Natalie ask around. They go to the shoe store where Webster worked, and question some of his fellow employees, and then go to the church where Webster attended mass every week. Father Bowen, one of the monks at the church, mentions to Monk and Natalie something interesting: several years ago, Ronald Webster hit a woman with his car and he fled the scene. He felt so guilty about the incident that he started attending church to pay for what he did. Natalie quickly calls Disher to ask for a check on the victim Webster hit.
Their next stop is the office of Dr. Paula Dalmas, the woman that Webster had hit with his car. Monk quickly determines that she is a dead end, and learns that Webster has been sending money to her anonymously for a while.
As Monk and Natalie return to San Francisco, they are called down to the morgue by Stottlemeyer, as the autopsy has been completed. Meeting Stottlemeyer at the morgue, they are surprised to see Ian Ludlow there. Ludlow admits that Randy called him in, and that Randy was one of his top students when he was teaching a class on mystery writing at Berkeley. Monk, Natalie, Stottlemeyer, Disher, Ludlow and the medical examiner all look at Webster's body. The bite does appear to have been made by an alligator, judging by the amount of force per square inch applied. At the same time though, the medical examiner mentions that there are traces of bath water and bath salts in the body, suggesting he drowned in his bathtub, which only makes things more complicated. Natalie asks if it is easy to fake an alligator bite, and learns that it is actually more difficult than one thinks: you have to get the right amount of force per square inch. Ludlow mentions that one of his characters in Death Is the Last Word actually tried faking an alligator bite with a bear trap with no success.
For obvious reasons, Monk is not happy with Ludlow's presence, dismissing some of the things Ludlow finds out, including the fact that Webster had his last meal (a few slices of pizza) less than an hour before he was killed. The five eventually locate Webster's apartment. Monk examines the scene and notices streaks on the floor and other clues that suggest that this is where Webster was killed. He also notices that their killer apparently was very messy and left behind basically everything except a name and a phone number. Monk also notices that the victim was a fan of Ludlow's books, judging by the fact that he has all but the latest title on his bookshelf.
Meanwhile, Monk and Natalie are called in by Cochran on a personal favor: some of his fire company's rescue equipment has been stolen. They head down to Cochran's firehouse, and learn that a few days ago, someone firebombed a painter's van, causing quite an explosion. When the fire crews came back, they found that someone had stolen the Jaws of Life, a hydraulic package used by firefighters to extricate people in serious car accidents. Monk figures that someone lured the crews out of the firehouse to steal the equipment, and with that, he solves the case. Not only that, but he has also solved the Ellen Cole case.
The next morning, Sharona shows up at Monk's apartment, Monk having called her the night before. Stottlemeyer also shows up. Monk mentions that Ludlow killed both Ronald Webster and Ellen Cole. He explains that Ludlow attached an alligator head to the Jaws of Life to fake the alligator bite on Webster, and mentions that Ludlow is the likely suspect, as he remembers Ellen Cole as being a fan of Ludlow's titles before she was killed, and she had all but his latest title. The same applies to Webster.
Stottlemeyer, however, is not convinced, and believes that Monk is personally jealous at the fact that Ludlow is helping consult on the Webster case. He dismisses what Monk believes happened, apart from the M.O. on the fake alligator attack.
When Natalie gets home, the police are waiting outside her house. In the house, Ludlow accuses Natalie and Sharona of committing the murders, accusing Sharona on the Ellen Cole murder and Natalie to Ronald Webster. He explains their motive as, on Sharona's part, a desire to rid herself of her husband, and on Natalie's part, a desire to get Sharona out of the way and keep her job. As impossible as it sounds, the evidence is arranged in a compelling enough way that Stottlemeyer has no choice but to arrest both women. To their horror, Monk has nothing to add.
The two women spend a night together in a holding cell, where they finally bond. Sharona recognizes that Natalie is a good fit for Monk - which is no small validation, when Natalie has been working in Sharona's shadow for years. At the same time, Sharona sadly advises her that Natalie will never have a chance for her own life, or her own happiness, unless she can bring herself to abandon Monk.
Here's What HappenedEdit
The next day, the two women are brought in for interrogation, and Monk has rallied. He mentions that he now has all the proof he needs to arrest Ludlow. He mentions Ludlow's motive: he can't create plots quickly enough to meet his deadlines, so he works in an interesting way to make his book plots. He befriends someone at a book signing, then kills them, observes how events unfold, and then frames the least likely suspect for the crime. Monk goes back through how Ludlow committed the crimes, and then explains that the murder of Ronald Webster was about framing Natalie and expanding his next book.
He explains that the events leading up to Webster's death began when Natalie bought several of Ludlow's titles in Los Angeles. Ludlow stole Natalie's credit card receipt and used the number on the receipt to order the alligator head and ship it to her house in San Francisco with overnight shipping.
Ludlow mentions that there isn't any proof, but Monk points out that Ludlow, like most bad mystery writers, has his killers drop clues everywhere so that his detective can wrap everything up nice and tight. He added a few clues too many when he framed Natalie. Monk also mentions that Natalie's relationship with Cochran was one of the types of surprises Ludlow likes when he commits the random killings.
Monk is starting to build a case, but Ludlow points out to Monk that all of the events described happened before he arrived in San Francisco on that Friday. At this, Monk asks Randy and confirms that he called Ludlow's cell phone. Ludlow says he was in Los Angeles, but Monk says he can prove Ludlow was actually in San Francisco. He presents a copy of a receipt from a pizza box he found in Ronald Webster's kitchen. It comes from Sorrento's Pizzeria, a local place in Natalie's neighborhood. Ludlow claims that the receipt can prove Webster was in the restaurant at the same time that Natalie was in there with Julie, a few nights before the murder, and that he knows this because he is thorough in his investigation. Monk, however, claims that that explanation would have worked, but there's one thing: Ludlow is much like the killers in his books, and has been betrayed by a personality quirk. Monk mentions that there is a bookstore across the street from Sorrento's. After admitting that he had to wait until this morning to get the evidence (due to the store being closed on Sundays), he pulls out a copy of Death Is the Last Word that he bought at that bookstore. Ludlow asks if he should sign it, but Monk shows that he actually signed this copy of the book two days before Webster was killed, several days before he claimed to have arrived in San Francisco.
Monk mentions that that is Ludlow's personality quirk: he can't pass a bookstore without signing his own books. He watched Natalie and looked for just the right person to kill. Ronald Webster was the perfect victim. Ludlow befriended him, killed him by clamping the stolen Jaws of Life on him, and then dumped his body at the beach.
Ludlow is arrested, and Trevor - along with several other "murderers" caught with Ludlow's assistance - are set free. Monk admits to Natalie and Sharona that in fact he actually feared that Ludlow would know he was being suspected of being the killer, and Monk mentions that he didn't want Ludlow buying all his signed books. He reveals that Ludlow also signed his stock at two other bookstores in San Francisco. In fact, he has a bag full of the titles, which will be pretty interesting reading when Ludlow goes before a jury.
Exonerated, Sharona and Natalie reunite with their families, and Sharona prepares to return to Los Angeles with Trevor and Benjy, leaving Monk in Natalie's hands, and giving Monk the loving goodbye she never said the last time.
Characters from the showEdit
- Adrian Monk;
- Natalie Teeger;
- Sharona Fleming;
- Dr. Charles Kroger;
- Captain Leland Stottlemeyer;
- Lieutenant Randy Disher;
- Julie Teeger;
- Benjy Fleming;
- Trevor Howe (incorrectly named as Trevor Fleming in the book).
- Ian Ludlow: a prolific mystery author, in the same vein as J.B. Fletcher, who also acts as a consultant to the LAPD in the same manner as Monk;
- Lt. Dozier: LAPD detective, and Ludlow's biggest supporter.
- Ellen Cole - Professor of Gender Studies at UCLA, and Trevor's supposed victim;
- Joe Cochran: Natalie's sometime-lover, a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department.
- Ronald Webster - Shoe salesman, and victim of an apparent alligator attack
Background Information and NotesEdit
- Sharona Fleming was written out of the TV series when her actress, Bitty Schram, abruptly left the show in the middle of the third season. Sharona's absence was explained by her decision to re-marry her ex-husband and move back to New Jersey. The novel was written to provide a certain amount of closure between Monk and Sharona that was lacking from the TV series.
- The events of this novel were rendered officially non-canon by the Season Eight episode, "Mr. Monk and Sharona," in which Sharona informed Monk that she and Trevor had separated again, permanently, and she was still working as a nurse in New Jersey.
- When examining the security panel for Ellen Cole's house, Monk notes that the code is "1212333" because it sounds like the first part of the tune for "Mary Had a Little Lamb". The first 1 in the security code should actually be a 3.
- Trevor Howe is erroneously given Sharona's last name. And technically, since Sharona is married to Trevor, she should be referred to as Sharona Fleming-Howe, although it's implied of episodes that when Sharona first split up from Trevor, she dropped his last name to avoid being associated with him.
- There are at least two points in the story where Monk's compulsive tendancies seem to be way overexaggerated compared to the series:
- When Monk and Natalie take Julie to the hospital, Monk suggests to the doctor that he put a cast on Julie's left wrist, the one that is not broken, so that she is balanced. Monk also goes so far as to put on a hospital gown even though he's not a patient. This seems very unusual, considering that prior to this novel, there have been episodes (such as "Mr. Monk and the Captain's Marriage", "Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife," "Mr. Monk Goes to the Hospital", and "Mr. Monk and the Sleeping Suspect") in which Monk has been in hospitals without putting on a patient gown or insisting on wearing one, and in the episodes, he doesn't obsess about people who have a cast or sling on one arm not having a matching one on the other (such as the two times Captain Stottlemeyer has his right arm in a sling - whether from a broken arm in "Mr. Monk and the Red-Headed Stranger" or getting shot in the shoulder in "Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine").
- Because of his problems with smog, Monk has a very big overreaction and wears a hazmat suit of the kind used when handling chemical spills when he is in Los Angeles. In "Mr. Monk and the Game Show", Monk accompanied his father-in-law to Los Angeles and he didn't wear a gas mask at any point in the episode. In "Mr. Monk is Someone Else", Monk goes to Los Angeles to impersonate a dead hitman, and doesn't feel the need to wear a mask before traveling to LA.
- Based on the fact that there's a reference to October 20th falling on a Thursday, the novel seems to take place in 2005 (when this was the case). However, references to Stottlemeyer dating Linda Fusco would suggest that this novel took place in 2006 or 2007.