Heat Wave, by Richard Castle

Purchased from Barnes & Noble in Long Island, New York. (Thank you, Aunt Jessica!)
Started and finished on a six-hour plane ride to Los Angeles.

I first came across this book while browsing the mystery section of the soon-to-be-closing Borders store by my apartment. Being a fan of the TV series from which the book comes from, I was instantly amused and intrigued by my unexpected discovery. The experience was akin to finding something iconic or recognizable from a TV series or movie, on sale at a giftstore. It’s the delicious feeling that, however brief or delusional, the boundary between fiction — or imagination — and reality have been erased, and that you have crossed over into the reality inhabited by your favorite character or show. When I held that book, and flipped through its pages, I imagined for a brief moment that Richard Castle was real, and that everyone in the TV show as real. Which then raised all these questions in my mind, like “‘What constitutes reality?” and “If we can read the book, and also watch the TV show, what does that make us? Audience or actor? On which side of the fourth wall — or TV screen — do we stand?” But I’ll talk about that some other time. For the present, I want to focus on the story.

Heat Wave opens with protagonist Nikki Heat, one of New York City’s best homicide detectives, walking up to her latest crime scene in the middle of a freak heat wave in Manhattan. The other main characters are quickly but smoothly introduced: Detectives Raley and Ochoa, members of Heat’s team; medical examiner Lauren Parry; and star journalist Jameson Rook, who scored a contract to shadow Heat for research for a magazine article on the NYPD. Fans of Castle will quickly discover a thinly veiled parallel between the book’s main characters and those on the TV show: Nikki Heat and Kate Beckett; Raley and Ryan; Ochoa and Esposito; Lauren and Lanie; and, of course, Jameson Rook and Richard Castle. I found the parallels amusing at first — there were many Haha, I see what you did there, Castle — er, I mean, ABC moments — but the amusement didn’t last. Merchandise or no merchandise, the book is a book, and I felt that the parallels between the book characters and the TV characters were too heavy, and too obvious. The story basically reads like a novelized Castle episode, with characters given not-too-similar-so-as-to-be-the-same-but-similar-enough-so-that-a-five-year-old-could-see-the-parallel names and personalities. Basically, no creativity or uniqueness. But perhaps that is an unfair assessment. The book, I imagine, was created to promote the show, not to be a stand-alone work of fiction like the other books on my shelves; so of course the characters in the book would closely shadow those of the show.

The mystery was pretty decent. I totally did not expect the killer to be who they turned out to be. The book had me guessing until the very end. And even then, at the unveiling, I had to re-read to make sure my eyes had read correctly, because I was in disbelief. The characters are somewhat multi-dimensional — emphasis on “somewhat” — which is refreshing. Heat is, I think, the most complex of the cast. She’s clearly tough and sexy. Intelligent too, and intense. But mostly tough and sexy. (Do I hear, “fanservice?”) But she has a vulnerable side. Her mother was murdered. Every murder case she works on reopens the wound left by said murder. She also likes taking her niece out to watch Pixar movies. The high brow snob in me just wished her characterization was handled more subtly, and less Oh, hold on a minute. Nikki Heat needs more depth. Let’s write a paragraph describing her vulnerabilities, and insert it between a car chase and an interrogation! As for style, Castle — or rather whoever was ghostwriting as Castle — spares no flowery words. Sentences are blunt, abrupt, and to the point. Prose is not so much quick, but fast and non-stop. Rather like Heat herself, who likes to move at top seed. Nice touch.

All in all, I liked Heat Wave. I don’t think it’s a must-read for Castle fans, but I don’t think fans stand to lose if they do read the book. It’s fun, and it’s entertaining. And it’s more Castle, which is always good.

P. S. — I just noticed this nod to the TV original in the acknowledgments, and couldn’t help but laugh out loud and share. Can you spot what I’m referring to?

I see what you did there, ABC. I see what you did there.


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