Naked Heat by Richard Castle: B

From the front flap:
When New York’s most vicious gossip columnist, Cassidy Towne, is found dead, Heat uncovers a gallery of high-profile suspects, all with compelling motives for killing the most feared muckraker in Manhattan.

Heat’s murder investigation is complicated by her surprise reunion with superstar magazine journalist Jameson Rook. In the wake of their recent breakup, Nikki would rather not deal with their raw emotional baggage. But the handsome, wise-cracking, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s personal involvement in the case forces her to team up with Rook anyway. The residue of their unresolved romantic conflict and crackling sexual tension fills the air as Heat and Rook embark on a search for a killer among celebrities and mobsters, singers and hookers, pro athletes and shamed politicians.

This new, explosive case brings on the heat in the glittery world of secrets, cover-ups, and scandals.

In this second outing for “Richard Castle,” Detective Nikki Heat and her squad are working two cases—one the death of a produce delivery driver and the other the murder of Cassidy Towne, a gossip columnist with scads of powerful enemies. Magazine reporter Jameson Rook has been shadowing Towne, planning to pen a feature on her, so he provides information for the investigation. While leads are followed and the (lamentably somewhat obvious) conclusion pursued, Heat and Rook deal must also deal with the awkwardness resulting from their fairly recent breakup.

Although I definitely enjoyed Heat Wave, the first media tie-in mystery for the ABC show Castle, Naked Heat succeeds more as an independent entity. The characters are less obviously stand-ins for characters on the show, and though large portions of the investigation still remind me of the TV series, that’s not always a bad thing. For example, it’s rare that a mystery novel makes me giggle aloud, a feat that Naked Heat achieved several times (once by way of a Firefly reference).

The main characters really are the chief draw here. The mystery is better than in the prior book—at least, what I can remember of its mystery, which isn’t much—but still involves glitzy types like mobsters and pop stars, which I just can’t care about. A few intense action sequences spice up the narrative, but it also drags in places. The most compelling aspect of the story for me was the detectives’ negative reaction to Rook’s recently published profile of Heat—both because it portrayed her as the star of the squad while marginalizing the contributions of the others and because unwelcome publicity is now hounding her at every turn—and his realization of how his approach to the article affected its subjects. I found his contrition believable.

With this installment, I think the book series has proven itself capable of standing on its own. As I said before, it’s a rare mystery that can make me laugh. Though the book is definitely not without its flaws, at this point I think I can safely say that even if this series bore no relation to a TV show I happen to watch, I would probably enjoy it to the same degree.

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.