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Onyx reviews: Heat Wave by Richard Castle

Richard Castle is the name of the character played by Nathan Fillion on the ABC TV series Castle. Rick Castle is a famous crime novelist who uses his connections in NY political and social circles to get himself attached semi-permanently to female homicide detective Kate Beckett while he researches a character for his next book. It's good P.R. for the department, Beckett's supervisors tell her.

Castle ultimately writes his Beckett-inspired novel during the course of the series. It's called Heat Wave, and it becomes an element of the story. Beckett jockeys for a pre-release copy of the book so she can see how Castle has depicted her.

It's only natural, then, that ABC should decide to publish the novel. In the past, the network has cross-promoted TV series such as Lost and Rose Red with novel tie-ins. They are generally cagey about revealing the true identity of the authors of these crossover books.

Heat Wave is a fairly standard crime novel that is only slightly more complex than a TV episode. It clocks in at a breezy 208 pages and can easily be read in a single sitting. The language is PG-13, the sex scenes could be aired during prime time, and one would be exposed to more violence on a typical episode of C.S.I. It's not best-seller material, although it has become a bestseller because of its heredity and association to a highly rated TV program.

Nikki Heat, Kate Beckett's alter ego, is saddled with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jameson Rook (thereby extending the chess metaphor), who is writing an article about homicide investigations during one of Manhattan's heat waves. This isn't an original conceit—Ed McBain's Heat described the parallels between a heat wave and a crime wave in his fictional version of NYC. The concept of fictionalized versions of fictional characters is intriguing, though also not entirely original.

The first murder victim is Matthew Starr, a wealthy developer cut from the same cloth as Donald Trump, who falls six stories to his death from his luxe apartment. He was beaten by thugs earlier the same day, and the investigation slowly reveals that Starr's empire was in trouble. 

Rook and Castle are essentially clones, swaggering, wealthy, privileged, connected, charming, dapper, witty, and irresistible to women. The novel is essentially Castle's fantasy wish fulfillment—the relationship between Rook and Heat is more torrid than the one between Castle and Beckett. 

Because Heat is the protagonist, the author gets to swivel the camera and reveal Rook/Castle from Heat/Beckett's perspective. It also allows Heat to put Rook in his place from time to time, forbidding him from participating in dangerous or delicate aspects of the investigation.

The banter and light comedy that plays out so well on the TV series falls flat on the printed page. It comes off as juvenile and forced. However, the book does a yeoman's job of showing how unexciting the life of a homicide detective can be. That's not to say the book is boring—it's too short and fast-paced to ever become tedious and "Castle" injects enough jeopardy to keep the tension level high. But Heat is determined to show Rook that the way murders are solved is far more mundane and exacting than it is typically depicted on television. Questions are asked and new information is gleaned through routine investigative techniques.

The mystery itself is satisfyingly sophisticated and the conclusion does contain some surprises. It extends into the world of art theft, protection rackets and the economic bust. This isn't just a hack job of a novel, but neither is it likely to set the mystery world on fire. It serves its purpose, which is to extend the reach of the Castle franchise and to give fans of the series another level on which to enjoy the show. It's not clear, though, how the book would be received by someone unfamiliar with Castle.

For literary sleuths interested in figuring out the true identity of the author, scrutinize the About the Author blurb. There's a named award associated with Richard Castle that holds a significant clue.

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