Heat Wave by Richard Castle: B

heatwaveFrom the front flap:
A New York real estate tycoon plunges to his death on a Manhattan sidewalk. A trophy wife with a past survives a narrow escape from a brazen attack. Mobsters and moguls with no shortage of reasons to kill trot out their alibis. And then, in the suffocating grip of a record heat wave, comes another shocking murder and a sharp turn in a tense journey into the dirty little secrets of the wealthy. Secrets that prove to be fatal. Secrets that lay hidden in the dark until one NYPD detective shines a light.

Mystery sensation Richard Castle, blockbuster author of the wildly bestselling Derrick Storm novels, introduces his newest character, NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat. Tough, sexy, professional, Nikki Heat carries a passion for justice as she leads one of New York City’s top homicide squads. She’s hit with an unexpected challenge when the commissioner assigns superstar magazine journalist Jameson Rook to ride along with her to research an article on New York’s Finest. Pulitzer Prize-winning Rook is as much a handful as he is handsome. His wisecracking and meddling aren’t her only problems. As she works to unravel the secrets of the murdered real estate tycoon, she must also confront the spark between them. The one called heat.

If you’re not familiar with the ABC series Castle, the premise is that famed mystery novelist Richard Castle has wrangled a standing arrangement to follow Detective Kate Beckett around on her cases as research for his new novel. They, and her underlings Kevin Ryan and Javier Esposito, solve a murder each episode. The cases are usually pretty lousy—someone seriously needs to start a drinking game (if they haven’t already) with instructions to sip every time an adulterous spouse is involved—but Castle’s charm and the witty banter amongst the sleuths makes the show quite entertaining. In the context of the series, Heat Wave is the book that Castle writes based on his observations and experiences. (Entertaining note: When Castle gives Kate a copy to read, he informs her that the sex scene is on page 105. It really is!)

In a nutshell, reading Heat Wave is exactly like watching an episode of Castle. Kate Beckett is the inspiration for Nikki Heat, and Ryan and Esposito have been renamed Raley and Ochoa. Castle’s even written himself in, in the form of a wisecracking journalist named Jameson Rook who, like Castle, never follows instructions to stay out of the fray when something potentially dangerous is going on. They’re investigating a case that involves marital infidelity (sip!) and a bunch of stereotyped characters like real estate tycoons, Russian mobster thugs, and discontent trophy wives. As in the show, the case is rather lame, but the humor and interaction between the characters make it an entertaining read anyway.

There are some differences, though. Beyond the mild profanity, sex, and heightened level of violence, there’s the matter of perspective. Castle, as the title would imply, is the main character of the series and the actor who portrays him, Nathan Fillion, steals every scene that he’s in. In Heat Wave, Nikki/Kate is the protagonist and is fleshed out to a far greater extent than the show manages. One thing bothers me: I’m not sure if we should assume that whatever is true about Nikki is necessarily true about Kate. We know that Castle has made up some things for the novel—like the aforementioned (and remarkably not icky!) sex scene, for example—so are his insights into Nikki automatically applicable to her television counterpart? If so, then this book is essential to understanding where Kate is coming from. If not, then it’s going to be confusing to reconcile the two.

I’m not sure how Heat Wave will fare with someone who’s never watched Castle. As a regular viewer, I found it impossible not to superimpose the actors’ voices and physical traits onto the novel’s characters and presuppose the same lighthearted tone featured in the series. There’s enough humor in the book that I think an outsider will get the feel eventually, but I worry that the lackluster mystery might turn them off before they discovered the amusing parts.

Ultimately, Heat Wave is very successful as a media tie-in book, going beyond a faithful adherence to the show’s story and characters to possibly offer valuable new information. As a stand-alone work it is perhaps less worthy of praise, but based purely on its own charms, I can still honestly say that I’d want to read more. Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity!

Additional reviews of Heat Wave can be found at Triple Take.

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