Virtue Triumphant

"In detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They're the purest literature we have." Mystery novelist and Christian theologian Dorothy L. Sayers put those words into the mouth of her fictional detective. And while the statement isn't always true, it's true often enough to help us understand why detective stories have been so popular for so long. Nearly all of them appeal to our desire to see goodness rewarded and evil punished. They leave us with a sense that justice has prevailed and order has been restored. One such story is the hit TV show Monk, which is starting its third season. Adrian Monk, played by Tony Shalhoub, was a celebrated police detective until his obsessive -- compulsive disorder, triggered by his wife's murder, forced him to retire. As Gene Edward Veith summarizes in WORLD magazine, "He has a phobia about germs; he panics when his routine is disrupted; he loses his composure at any kind of disorder. He is also afraid of flying, of being in closed spaces, along with just about every other phobia in the book." As you'd expect, Monk's phobias make his daily life a nightmare. The show's theme song, titled "It's a Jungle Out There," emphasizes the fear he faces every time he ventures out into the world. But with the help of his nurse, Sharona, he keeps venturing, prodded by his sense of justice to work as a consultant for the police department. Even when it costs him something -- when he has to be locked up in jail to solve a case, for example, or when he's under tremendous pressure to ignore obscure evidence for the sake of a quick solution and good publicity -- Monk is driven to find out the truth and set things right. As Veith points out, "Because of his affliction, he picks up on the order and the violations of order -- the inconsistencies, the tiny detail out of place, the unexpected connections -- that constitute criminal evidence." Better than anyone else around him, Monk understands the importance of order. Shalhoub and the show's writers manage to play Monk's idiosyncrasies for laughs without being insensitive -- for instance, when he can't climb down a ladder without first draping a tissue over every rung. But the comedy doesn't obscure the show's poignant main conflict. Monk's personal demons tempt him to focus only on himself and shut out everyone else. He can be selfish and inconsiderate, as when he makes others do the dirty work he can't bring himself to do, or brushes off Sharona's fears because he can't imagine anyone but himself being afraid. But every time he conquers his demons for the sake of some greater good, he wins a moral victory. They may look like small victories, but they take remarkable courage. And they give us hope not only that Monk will solve the latest murder, but also that one day he will finally find peace. As with many detective shows, the violence and subject matter means that Monk isn't for children. But for adults and older teens, it's a welcome chance to root for a real hero -- a man who triumphs not only over criminals, but also over his own weakness. And, in a sense, it's an example of the biblical theme of good coming out of adversity. For further reading and information: Gene Edward Veith, "Sweet-tempered sleuth," WORLD, 7 February 2004. Gina Dalfonzo, "Confessions of a Jinx," BreakPoint Online, 25 October 2002. Gina Dalfonzo, "Random Thoughts" (section on Monk), BreakPoint Online, 17 September 2003.
  1. T. Karnick, "Monk's No Fruitcake," National Review Online, 9 December 2002.
Learn more about Monk and see the show's summer schedule here. Listen to interviews with Tony Shalhoub on NPR. Gary Robinson, "Callahan Rides Again," BreakPoint Online, 10 June 2004. Steve Garber, "Good Books, Bad Books," BreakPoint WorldView, January/February 2003. Thomas Hibbs, Shows about Nothing (Spence, 1999).


Chuck Colson


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