Welcome to our Castle Summer Book Club, where we try to pass the time until season five by reading the works of Richard Castle. First up: Heat Wave, the first Nikki Heat book; we’ll discuss through chapter eight this week and the rest next week.
First of all, overall impressions: This novel was (at least so far) a little better than I expected. So many TV or movie tie-in books are so awful that I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one was readable, if not exactly great literature. I’ve often wondered just what sort of a writer Castle is supposed to be. Using his poker buddies as a spectrum, for example, is he supposed to be more of a Dennis Lehane or a James Patterson? When I’ve mused about this in the past, I’ve usually wound up deciding “Oh, probably somewhere in the middle,” and this book supports that conclusion. (I would also, of course, argue that it’s completely possible that the character of Castle is supposed to be a better writer than whomever they got to ghostwrite the books.)
I thought the writer(s) did a good job of making the central mystery case very Castle in tone, with shady business moguls, trophy wives, nannies, secret lives, and Russian thugs. It’s a little more complex than the average Castle case, since a 200 page novel requires more content than a 42-minute episode, but it retained the show’s flavor, which makes sense both externally – they want fans of the show to like and keep buying the books – and internally – this is the kind of fictional case Castle would come up with based on his early cases with Beckett. It’s hard to evaluate a mystery plot halfway through, so we’ll deal with this a little more next week, but for now, does anyone have a theory as to whodunnit?
The character of Nikki Heat is a little bit idealized, as I’d expected, but the main thing that came across was how much respect for her was embedded into the narrative. I loved that when Heat was attacked, Castle let her save herself rather than have Rook appear to rescue her. (This direct threat to Heat was a good way to expand a “case of the week” to novel length and to make sure the stakes were high. I wonder if all the novels will have something along those lines?) Her mother’s murder was also handled in a sensitive way, and I look forward to seeing whether Heat finds out more about that in future books, which Castle would have been writing as the investigation progressed in real life. Er, and by “real life” I mean the show. You know. In these beginning chapters, Heat thought a lot about her “road not taken” – a rich husband, kids, a house in Connecticut. It’s obvious that Castle found this aspect of Beckett fascinating, especially before he knew her well, but I also wonder whether he was (subconsciously?) exploring how she might eventually feel about having those things with him. Nikki Heat is very aware of her attraction to Rook from the beginning, and clearly their relationship will move more quickly than Castle and Beckett’s did.
And what of Castle’s alter ego himself, Jameson Rook? It’s always interesting to see how a writer portrays a character who is so obviously autobiographical. Castle keeps Rook a writer but makes him a journalist rather than a novelist, and I thought this choice mostly worked well: It makes it perhaps even more likely that he’d met lots of powerful people and could call in favors. The one drawback was that anyone whose questioning he sat in on should have been even more concerned about a journalist’s presence than they would be about a novelist’s, and while he did assure a few people that everything was off the record, I wanted them to go farther with that. I really liked that Castle let Rook be almost as annoying to Heat as he himself actually was to Beckett at the beginning of their partnership – it showed a nice level of self-awareness. We haven’t seen too much of Rook’s home life yet, but I liked that Martha made it into the books. I was a little disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be any mention of Rook having a daughter, but then I thought that maybe Castle made that choice to preserve Alexis’s privacy (or spare her some embarrassment).
So. Thoughts? Questions? Complaints? What do you think will happen? Any wild theories about the real author of the books? Hit the comments to talk about whatever book-related topic you’d like, though please remember not to spoil the plot past chapter eight. And we’ll meet back here next week to discuss the rest of the book!
(Photo courtesy of ABC.)