Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive modern-day Sherlock Holmes, is forced to move in with his assistant Natalie Teeger, who is the narrator of the novel, while his apartment is being fumigated. Natalie only accepts after Monk exasperates her while trying to find a hotel room. After laying down certain laws (namely, turning away the moving men bringing Monk’s refrigerator and bed into her house) Natalie finds her daughter Julie crying in her room. Julie tells her that Sparky, a firehouse dalmatian who visited her school during Fire Safety Week, was found murdered the previous night. Monk can’t bear to see Julie cry, and promises to check into the matter.
Monk and Natalie drive out to Fire Station #28 in North Beach, Sparky's firehouse, to speak with Captain Mantooth, the commander of the engine company in question. Monk has a boyish fascination with firefighting – that is, with the rules requiring everything in the firehouse to be spotlessly clean and in perfect order. While he is lovingly polishing the already shining ladder truck, Natalie questions Mantooth, who tells her that Sparky belonged to one of their best men, Joseph 'Joe' Cochran, and always slept in the firehouse while Joe was on duty.
According to Mantooth, the crew was called to a multiple alarm house fire about four blocks from the firehouse around 10:00 PM in which an old woman was killed, having fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette in front of her television set. Sometime in the four hours between when they responded and when they returned to unload their equipment, someone snuck into the firehouse and killed Sparky with a pickaxe. Monk examines the crime scene, and he explains what he believe happened: the intruder walked into the firehouse through the open garage doors, probably looking for something to steal (although oddly, for a burglary, nothing seems to be missing), and grabbed a pickaxe off a tool rack when Sparky ran at him. Since the killer didn’t bring the weapon, Monk guesses that the attack was probably spur-of-the-moment. The only question is who, or why would someone kill a firehouse dog, and what was it the killer might have been looking for? When Monk asks Mantooth if anything was missing or disturbed when they got back, Mantooth says the only thing he noticed were two towels missing; he doesn’t think it’s important, but Monk is impressed to meet someone else who would notice that kind of detail.
Monk and Natalie walk from the firehouse the five blocks to the scene of the previous night's fire, intending to look for Joe Cochran. Instead, they run into Captain Stottlemeyer, who is treating the house as a crime scene until the arson investigator makes a decision. Stottlemeyer and the SFFD's arson investigator believe that the death was an accident: Esther Stoval, the victim, was a chain smoker. They believe that she was smoking a cigarette, which fell onto a pile of newspapers, igniting them. The fire spread from the newspapers to the rest of the room, and then to the rest of the house. However, Monk finds evidence that suggests that Esther was actually murdered: from the victim's position on the couch, she couldn't see the TV, and was looking at an empty chair, making it obvious that she was talking to someone else. Furthermore, if she was watching TV when she died, then why is the remote on the other end of the coffee table from where her head was? The conclusion is that someone killed Esther, then set her house on fire to destroy the evidence.
Later that day, Monk and Natalie find Joe Cochran feeding the neighborhood’s stray cats while the investigations wrap up. Monk refuses to approach the cats (due to allergies), so Natalie goes to talk with Joe, and sparks immediately fly – Joe is not only ruggedly handsome, but big-hearted and courteous. When Natalie explains why they are there, Joe, a little choked up, says that everyone loved Sparky, and the only person with a motive he can think of would be Gregorio Dumas, a stuck-up dog breeder who lives across the street from the firehouse. Recently, Gregorio Dumas threatened the fire company with a lawsuit after Sparky impregnated his prize show poodle Letitia.
Monk and Natalie talk to Dumas, who cuts a ludicrous figure with his palatial accommodations for his poodle, and his descriptions of Sparky as a common mutt. When Monk asks where he was the previous night, Dumas says he was at home on Friday night, watching the firehouse to make sure Sparky didn’t try anything again. While watching, he saw a lone man dressed as a firefighter leave the firehouse. When Natalie brings this up on a date with Joe later, Joe says that this is impossible: all of the on-duty firemen were at Esther Stoval's house and they never sent anyone back for more gear. Monk figures that perhaps Dumas saw the killer. In questioning Dumas, Monk also notices a strange detail: Dumas is so overprotective of his poodle that he keeps her in a locked kennel surrounded by barbed wire – so how could Sparky have impregnated her?
Before Monk can delve further on the firehouse dog case, he and Natalie are called back to the police station, where Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher have received the autopsy report on Esther Stoval. A lack of any traces of smoke or soot particles in Esther's lungs or nasal passages confirms that Esther was dead before the fire was started, and she was apparently suffocated with a pillow. They have what Stottlemeyer calls a perfect murder: by then burning down the house, the killer was able to destroy all forensic evidence that would have otherwise existed, including usable fingerprints and DNA. On top of all that, there is not a single witness to the crime.
Monk and Natalie ask around the neighborhood and they are dismayed to find that all of Esther’s neighbors despised her: she was a stereotypical “mean old lady,” who spied on the neighbors, complained loudly about their habits, and kept everyone up all night with the mewling of her innumerable cats. Worse, she was the lone holdout against a development plan by Lucas Breen, a local real estate tycoon, to demolish the houses on Esther's side of the street, and build an upscale condominium block. Now that she’s dead, the other residents are delighted to take their buyout from Breen and vacate the neighborhood.
Neighbors on both sides of Esther's street show similar stories - one of her next-door neighbors, who works at a local think tank, claims he had to research every new cat that Esther bought, and also mentions that Esther bought a type of cat known as a Turkish Van a few days before she was killed. He also notes that her house was like an enormous litterbox (as the dander would blow when it was windy out). A neighbor who lived across the street from Esther tells Monk and Natalie that Esther ratted him out to the cable company for hijacking their signal with an illegal converter box to watch a baseball game. He notes that he also sells antique cars to make some money (as he is unemployed), and when Esther saw people buying restored antique vehicles from him, she filed a complaint with the city clerk, who fined him for operating a business out of his house without first getting a license.
Joe asks Natalie out on a date, and she accepts gladly; while picking her up, Joe also wins over Julie by giving her Sparky’s firehouse badge and thanking her for caring enough about his dog to hire Monk.
The next day, Monk, Natalie, and Stottlemeyer interview Lucas Breen, who is both rich and influential (he holds a seat on the police commission), and CEO of the Breen Development Corporation. Breen admits he didn’t have a motive to kill Esther Stoval. In fact, for the record, if push ever came to shove, he could've always rewritten the zoning regulations on the block to evict her, or, if the worst came to happen, he could build his condo project around her house (Breen confides that it was only thanks to creativity that he was able to advance to the position he is currently at in the real estate industry). When Monk asks Breen for an alibi, Breen claims he was at a fundraiser at the Excelsior Tower Hotel downtown with his wife, the mayor, the governor and the governor's wife, and at least 500 other people. Leaving Breen's office, Stottlemeyer is exasperated that Monk had been needling Breen throughout the interview, and Monk says that he now believes Breen killed Esther Stoval.
When Monk arrives down in the lobby, he walks into the lobby flower shop, buys a bouquet, and presents it to Natalie and Stottlemeyer, saying that without a doubt, it proves Breen killed Esther: it's a distinctive, handmade bouquet identical to one that Monk saw when he and Natalie talked to Lizzie Draper, one of Esther's neighbors Monk has learned that Breen bought a flower bouquet from the shop for Lizzie just a few days before Esther was killed. He's figured that Lizzie is Breen’s mistress. Having remembered what Esther's other neighbors said about her spying habits, Monk figures that Esther had compromising photos of Breen with Lizzie Draper, threatened to send them to his wife, and he killed her to keep her quiet.
Back at the police station, Randy confirms that Breen's alibi for that night is rock solid. When Stottlemeyer asks about the alibi, Monk dismisses it: the fundraiser was crowded enough that Breen could have slipped out, killed Esther, set the house on fire, and reappeared several hours later without anyone noticing he had gone. Moreover, Breen designed and built the Excelsior, so he knows how to slip out without being seen by the security cameras. The only problem is a lack of evidence to build a case against Breen. The flowers aren't solid evidence, and with no witnesses who can confirm that Breen left the fundraiser, or went to Esther's house, plus the fact that Breen burned down the house to get rid of all traces of himself, even an indictment will be impossible.
But there is one question: how did Breen get to Esther's house? Natalie reasons that he couldn't have driven himself there because the press would have seen him leaving, and he probably wouldn't hail a taxi cab out of fear that the driver might remember him. Monk decides that Breen walked there.
To see if it is possible, Monk and Natalie park at the hotel to recreate the timetable Breen would have had to work with. They find one service exit to a back alleyway that is blocked from view from the street by a number of dumpsters, and decide that Breen used this door to exit and put himself at a safe distance from the press. To time themselves, they take the most direct route, figuring that Breen did the same thing. As they are passing one office building, a homeless man asks for spare change, and Monk gives him several packages of wipes instead. The man is not pleased.
After about 20 minutes walking, Monk and Natalie crest a hill and find themselves at Joe's firehouse. They decide to stop in and visit, reasoning that Breen would have had to stop around this point to catch his breath for a minute while on his way to Esther Stoval's house, even if he was on a tight schedule.
While they are at the firehouse, Natalie asks Joe some more questions about Sparky's habits, and Joe says that Sparky was allowed to run loose around the neighborhood when they were out responding to 911 calls. He doesn’t know where Sparky went while they were gone, but in the last few weeks, he always smelled like crap. Monk solves a piece of the case, and he and Natalie head across the street to confront Gregorio Dumas: it seems that Dumas has been tunneling into the basement of the firehouse, using the sewer line. He deliberately used his poodle to distract Sparky so he wouldn’t bark, while Dumas searched the basement, which historical records show is where a famous 19th-century train robber stashed his hidden treasure. Now Monk realizes why Sparky always smelled.
Dumas admits that he was in the firehouse on the night of the murder – and that he used the two missing towels to wipe the sewage off his shoes – but swears he didn’t kill Sparky, as it would have broken his poodle’s heart. He still mentions having seen the lone fireman leaving the garage, and in a way witnessed the crime. Monk believes him, and tells Natalie that Dumas saw Breen, who was posing as a fireman.
Here’s What Happened
Breen left the Excelsior and walked to Esther Stoval's house, having decided that he would try one more time to reason with her. He walked because that was the only way he could have made it there without being noticed (he couldn't drive himself because the valet and press would have seen him leave, and he couldn't take a taxi because the driver would have recognized him). When he got to Esther's house, she threatened to expose his affair with Lizzie Draper. He panicked, and quickly killed her, and then staged an "accidental" fire. He was running back to the hotel when he realized he had left something behind which would place him at her house that night. He couldn’t take the chance that it would be destroyed in the fire or could be traced to him, but by the time he realized it, the engines from Joe's firehouse had already passed him and he couldn't go back inside. He snuck into the firehouse, but Sparky came at him and Breen was forced to use a pickaxe to defend himself. He stole a helmet and turnout coat, and when he got back to the crime scene, he slipped on the gear. He was able to then retrieve the incriminating item without any bystanders or emergency workers noticing him, and then returned the stolen gear to the firehouse before returning to the fundraiser.
As Monk and Natalie make their way back to the hotel, Monk explains to Natalie that he figured Breen had stolen a fireman's coat because when they first arrived at the firehouse, there was a coat that had been hung up facing the wrong way. The fire captain happens to have a system. As Natalie is asking Monk how they can prove that Breen was in Esther's house the night she was killed, she is almost mugged by a man with a knife. There is a distraction because Monk is reluctant to give the mugger his wallet, causing the mugger to threaten to kill Natalie. It turns out to be a distraction, and Natalie takes the opportunity to overpower him and disarm him. Under pressure (in no part because Natalie threatens to castrate him), the mugger admits that he did pocket Breen's wallet, and mentions that Breen reeked of smoke like he'd just fled from a fire.
Monk, Natalie, and Stottlemeyer confront Breen at his office, but he feigns innocence. They inform him about how they know he was mugged as he was making his way back from the fire. Stottlemeyer notes that Breen did report his stolen credit cards to his bank, but curiously, Breen never reported the mugging to the police, likely because Breen would have blown his alibi open if he'd done so. Breen pretends that he was mugged while he was out having a cigar, to explain the mugger's claims about him smelling like smoke, and he never reported the mugging because his wife would've found out that he was smoking again.
The next day, Monk quickly checks the weather patterns for that night and also examines “before” and “after” pictures of Breen at the fundraiser. He notices that in the "before" photo, Breen is wearing his monogrammed, tailor-made overcoat, but in the "after" photo showing him leaving at midnight, the overcoat is gone.
Monk explains what he thinks happened: according to one weather chart, it stopped raining at around 9:30 PM. Joe's fire company was dispatched at 10:00 PM. If it took 40 minutes for Breen to walk from the hotel to Esther's house, Breen's time of departure could be placed at around 9:15 PM, so it would have still been raining when he first left. As a result, he wore his overcoat to stay dry. Monk figures that when he got to Esther's house, Breen must have hung his overcoat up before he talked to Esther. After killing her and setting the fire, as the rain had stopped, Breen must have not realized he'd left his coat behind until he'd travelled a few blocks, and was practically in front of the empty firehouse. He had to get that overcoat back, because - if it were like the rest of his wardrobe - it had monogrammed buttons with Breen's initials on them, and the buttons and scorched coat could have easily been traced back to him. He hence stole firefighting gear so that he could retrieve the coat. Breen thought he was home free, only he got mugged on the way back to the hotel.
Monk and Natalie go back to the firehouse. Natalie claims that they're going back to find where Breen may have ditched his overcoat, but Monk quickly figures that Natalie also wants to check on Joe, and points out the things about her behavior that he noticed (she never stopped reading past a newspaper article on a warehouse fire the night before that hospitalized two firemen, and she kept checking the clock to see if it was a good time to call). They try to figure places where the coat could have been ditched. While Natalie suspects that perhaps Breen ditched it at Lizzie Draper's house, Monk points out that that would have been very risky, and he theorizes that Breen probably disposed of the coat somewhere between the firehouse and the hotel. During their search, Randy calls Natalie to tell them that the mugger has confirmed that Breen was wearing his overcoat when he was mugged. Monk and Natalie search several dumpsters on the route, but when all of the dumpsters turn up empty, Monk sadly concludes that it must have already been collected – so the only way to find it is to root through the recently collected trash at the city dump.
Monk and Natalie go to the garbage dump and talk to Chad Grimsley, the manager, requesting him to hold the trash from the Excelsior Hotel for a few days so they can search it. They plan to go to Stottlemeyer to get their search warrants, but are forced to meet him at a homicide investigation near Sutro Tower. Monk quickly solves the homicide Stottlemeyer is working on the spot, but Stottlemeyer informs Monk that getting a search warrant for all that garbage isn't something that a judge will be likely to issue.
Indeed, when Stottlemeyer approaches the chief, the chief refuses to give him a search warrant, and orders him to stop harassing Breen with malicious accusations and start looking for other possible suspects. Stottlemeyer, however, still has faith in Monk's abilities as a detective, and as such knows that if Monk believes Breen is responsible for killing an old lady and a dog, he's probably right. So he decides to do the next-best thing he can do that will not get himself in trouble, and sends the forensics team to the firehouse to recover the firefighting gear that Breen utilized, on the off-chance that he left fingerprints or DNA behind when he returned it. Randy points out that they don't know exactly which pieces of firefighting gear Breen wore that night, but Stottlemeyer admits that it is their only shot.
The next date, Joe and several recruited off-duty firefighters pitch in to help Monk and Natalie root through the garbage, but without finding the overcoat. That night, Natalie goes on a second date with Joe, and they get even closer, though Natalie is disturbed by how nonchalantly Joe takes the dangerous aspects of his job.
Their date is interrupted, however, when Stottlemeyer calls Monk and Natalie into a new homicide. A homeless man has been found bludgeoned to death with a brick in his encampment. According to the coroner, the man had been dead for two hours when he was discovered. Stottlemeyer notes that the cops are very lucky - a patrol car happened to be passing by and the officers saw the mass commotion that coincided with the body's discovery. Monk has a sneezing fit, noting that the man seems to have slept with cats. When he asks why he is here, Stottlemeyer shows him several packets of wipes in the dead man’s pockets, and asks if they knew each other. Natalie recognizes the dead man as one of the homeless men that Monk handed wipes to while they were retracing Breen's steps.
Monk realizes that, despite the freezing cold temperatures, the dead man has no coat, and when he ran into the man on the street, he was wearing a dirty and tattered overcoat. He immediately announces that Breen also killed the homeless man. Stottlemeyer is skeptical, noting that Monk is making Breen into a type of serial killer, but Monk thinks that Breen is just a man who has to keep killing just to get away with killing Esther Stoval. He explains where the homeless man fits in: after recovering his overcoat and returning the stolen firefighting gear to the firehouse, Breen walked back to the hotel, during which time he was mugged. Afterwards, before he returned to the hotel, Breen put his overcoat in one of the Excelsior's dumpsters (probably because it had been partially scorched in the fire, and hence was ruined; also, he would have had to explain to his wife and others how he was able to scorch his overcoat during the fundraiser).
Later that night, the now-deceased homeless man picked it up. He didn't know about its origins, but when Monk, Natalie and Stottlemeyer were confronting Breen with their murder accusations, Breen saw the homeless man outside, and recognized the coat. Seeing the one piece of evidence that could convict him passing his building, Breen tracked the homeless man down, killed him, and then stole his overcoat.
The team rushes to Breen's mansion, but are too late: Breen has incinerated the overcoat in his fireplace, and (while sniffling due to a bad cold) smugly informs them that they have no evidence left to connect him with any crime.
Monk trudges back to Natalie’s house, feeling defeated. He is made more frustrated by the fact that Stottlemeyer risks losing his badge because of this case, and this is a case where Stottlemeyer got dragged into the investigation. Monk flips through his favorite book of Marmaduke cartoons, and when he spots a Marmaduke cartoon in which Marmaduke chases a cat up a tree, he realizes that they still have a chance to arrest Breen. He explains his theory to Stottlemeyer, who is willing to bet on it, even though he knows that this is risky. However, Stottlemeyer has been reprimanded by the chief, meaning he now risks losing his badge or possibly even demotion. Randy offers to come along, but Stottlemeyer says he won’t risk Randy’s badge along with his own.
Stottlemeyer and Natalie confront Breen in his penthouse office, while Monk remains in the lobby. Monk calls up on a cell phone, and on cue, Natalie produces a white cat called a Turkish Van. Breen has a sneezing fit, and Monk reveals his ace in the hole: Breen was sneezing explosively when they confronted him at his house. He claimed to have a cold, but Monk has just proven that he and Breen have one thing in common: they're both allergic to cats! The cat Natalie has produced is one that Esther Stoval purchased a few days before she was killed. Monk also remembers that he had a sneezing fit when he first met the homeless man who was later killed, and later had a similar fit when he was at the dead man's encampment. He initially thought that the man lived with cats, but there were no cat litters anywhere near the body or the encampment. Cat dander from one of Esther's cats had collected on Breen's overcoat during the fire. Stottlemeyer reveals that they're already searching Breen's car and house, and he is certain that they are going to match the danders they find to Esther's cats.
Breen cracks and makes a run for it, escaping the office in his private elevator. Stottlemeyer curses, knowing that if Breen manages to get out of the building he will disappear forever. However, Monk has a plan. As Breen is about to drive out of the parking garage, Monk grabs two bowls of clam chowder from the lobby restaurant and throws them at Breen’s windshield, blinding him, and causing him to lose control and crash. Breen, severely injured, and missing several of his teeth, stumbles out of his car carrying a pistol, wanting nothing more than to kill Monk before he goes to prison. Before Breen can pull the trigger, Randy suddenly appears and shoots the weapon out of his hand. When Stottlemeyer and Natalie arrive downstairs, Randy tells them that he followed them because he thought they would need backup, though Stottlemeyer points out to him that he also violated a direct order.
Returning to the police station, Monk, Natalie, Stottlemeyer and Disher learn that the preliminary on the hairs found in both Breen's house and car have matched with Esther's cats. Stottlemeyer mentions that his review hearing has been suspended and has been replaced with a commendation event for Randy.
Satisfied, Monk and Natalie return to the firehouse to inform the crew that they’ve caught Sparky's killer. Joe is ecstatic and wants to take Natalie out to celebrate, but Natalie says she’s come to a difficult decision: she is falling for Joe, but can’t get involved with another man in a dangerous job; she and Julie already lost Mitch, and she can’t go through that again. Joe is crestfallen, but accepts her decision.
Julie is so grateful to Monk for finding Sparky's killer that she organizes her bedroom just as he would like it. While Monk is preparing to move back home, Stottlemeyer drops by to tell them that the Breen case has been clinched by the amount of incriminating evidence they've been able to locate. They don't only have him just with the cat dander, but forensics has found Breen's fingerprints in a firefighter's glove.
Before Stottlemeyer leaves, Monk casually asks him to arrest Mrs. Throphamner, Natalie's elderly next door neighbor who has been babysitting Julie. He says that she murdered her husband – she’s been wearing his dentures in place of her own, and constantly planting and re-planting her roses to conceal his decaying corpse buried in her garden. To Natalie’s astonishment, the neighbor confesses. Furious that Monk would let her leave Julie in the care of a murderess, on the assumption that she wouldn’t kill anyone else, Natalie stalks off, not trusting herself near Monk for a good week.
Background Information and Notes
- The novel takes place sometime after Season Five's "Mr. Monk, Private Eye," since Natalie and Stottlemeyer talk over the events of that episode and Stottlemeyer is seeing Linda Fusco. However, at the same time, several mentions are made to Karen, Leland's wife.
- The season 5 episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing," co-written by Lee Goldberg, was based off of this novel. Many of the characters from the novel reappeared in the episode in new forms:
- Lucas Breen becomes a construction foreman named Peter Breen.
- Sparky, the firehouse dog, becomes a veteran firefighter, named Rusty.
- The characters of Esther Stoval and Lizzie Draper are consolidated into Stefanie Preston.
- There are a few significant differences between the two:
- Peter Breen, unlike Lucas Breen, doesn't commit the murders himself. Rather, he pays a construction worker named Eddie Murdoch to commit the murder for him.
- Whereas Lucas Breen returns the coat and helmet to the firehouse after he is done in the novel, in the episode, Eddie Murdoch disposes of the coat in an alleyway.
- The object for which the killer needed to steal a fireman's coat to get to changes. In the novel, Lucas Breen leaves his overcoat behind when he kills Esther Stoval. In the episode, Eddie Murdoch leaves Peter Breen's car keys behind when he kills Stefanie Preston.
- Does series continuity allow Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse and "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing" to happen in the same universe? It seems likely, as the novel Mr. Monk is Miserable refers to the events of "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing", and previous novels refer to the events of Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse, but this does not explain why in the episode, Monk never wonders (while blind) why the fact that Eddie Murdoch killed to steal a fireman's coat seems so similar to the case in the novel.