[Editor’s note: “Richard Castle” is the latest Jessica Fletcher – a New York Times bestselling novelist played by Nathan Fillion on ABC’s series Castle, now in its second season. He’s also the “author” of an honest-to-goodness, on-bookstore-shelves
novel, like the Angela Lansbury character's "Murder She Wrote" books before him. How does this novel, supposedly penned by a fictional character, play out in the real world? -SESE]
It takes talent to write good police-procedural murder mysteries. It takes even more talent to do that in a very short version (less than 200 pages). These days, readers are so used to bloated monstrosities with large numbers of subplots just to pad the page count that they can't appreciate a tight, efficiently written novel - they feel it's "not worth the price" if it isn't 400+ pages. Richard Castle says "Feh!" to all of that with the new novel Heat Wave. Despite some irritating authorial mannerisms, the book itself is very good and brings some interesting touches to the genre.
A horrible murder in her past has kept police detective Nikki Heat from forming anything resembling a normal relationship. She is, however, extremely good at her job. When a rich businessman falls from his penthouse window to his death, she thinks something more than suicide is involved. Forensics confirms this quickly, so it's a matter of piecing together what exactly happened and why. Suspects keep popping up, making her job harder. What makes it most difficult, though, is journalist Jameson Rook, a noted magazine writer (and next-level analog to the Richard Castle character) tagging along with her to research his article on New York's finest. She has to fight her extreme irritation with him as well as her growing (and grudging) attraction. This could all get in the way of solving the crime, if she lets it.
The main character is constantly referred to as "Nikki Heat," or sometimes even "Detective Nikki Heat." Since readers can’t have forgotten her since the last page, it has to be some kind of intentional mannerism to make her seem cooler or hotter or something like that. It just comes out of nowhere, too, which makes it even worse. Within a scene, she’s "Nikki" or "Heat" and then, out of the blue, it's "Nikki Heat made herself a sandwich." We get that your character's cool, Mr. Castle. No need to keep rubbing our faces in it.
That aside, I love the characterization of Heat (sorry, Nikki Heat), Rook, and the cops working with Heat to solve the crime. Especially good (and funny) is "Roach," actually two cops named Ochoa and Raley affectionately known by that singular name because of how close together they are. They're always cracking jokes at each other's expense, and I'd love to see more of them.
Heat and Rook, though, are the most interesting, though their dialogue is overwritten at times. The sexual tension between them becomes a bit cliched, probably because in novels like this, you know a male and a female character are eventually going to fall into bed. Most interesting is what happens after – Heat doesn't soften at all, something Rook is obviously looking for. She's still no-nonsense, treats him like a professional annoyance (though she at least stops insulting him), and doesn't relent to doing the typical romantic "lovers" thing.
The very economical prose is why the book can be this short and still encompass an interesting mystery, its accompanying twists and turns, and all the personal stuff that Heat goes through. Not a word is wasted, but it doesn't feel like anything’s missing. The prose style is not like Robert B. Parker short, clipped sentences, but it's still efficient and mostly a joy to read.
The mystery itself is quite good, too, though anybody with any familiarity with the genre will be able to tell who the killer is a mile away. Nikki Heat's reaction to the culprit goes a long way toward identifying the killer. Still, the twists and details of the plot still come up as surprises.
All in all, Heat Wave is a very good first "Nikki Heat" novel, a
credible introduction to a flawed but still likable character (herself analogous
to Castle's reluctant partner Beckett in the TV series). It's got an interesting mystery that will keep you and Nikki Heat (sorry, that rubs off, I guess) on your toes. It won't tax your brain too much, but it's a good mystery nevertheless. I took a chance when I saw it on the list of books available for review, and I'm glad I did. I'll probably check out future Heat novels as well. Isn't that what an introductory novel is for?