Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Heat Rises (2011)
Heat Rises (2011) is the third novel credited to Richard Castle, a television character who spends his time getting coffee for a squad of homicide detectives (apparently writing mostly off-screen). It follows the formula of the earlier books and television show in that it is filled with needless misdirection and revisiting of suspect characters (because the detectives can't seem to do the legwork before dragging them in to be interviewed or confronting them at their homes or places of business). In book form, this feels quite tedious. Why not let the characters seem a little more on the ball?
What the book does offer that is lacking in the TV show is frequent (and not well described) sex between the lead detective, Nikki Heat (Nikki doesn't seem to have a less ridiculous first name, but that's okay because every frequently refers to her, when speaking to her, by her full name...just like all of us do in our regular lives with our family, friends, lovers, coworkers, and enemies) and supposedly gifted journalist Jameson Rook. That would be fine if it were handled by a more adept author, but "Richard Castle" handles the placement of the sex scenes with all the gentleness of a child stomping an ill-fitting shoe to make it fit.
That is not the real problem with the book. No, it suffers from an inability to have most of the disparate elements have any real relationship to what the plot is supposed to be. I don't know how this is the draft that the editors decided was good enough. It could have absolutely used more direction from the editor, but it isn't a book that is going to make it on its literary chops – see Shatner's TekWar (1989) for a book that only needed to be good enough for die-hard Shatner fans to find satisfactory before it went to press – so all it needs to do is be written in coherent sentences.
Maddeningly, the Castle books never do anything to try to develop the characters. "Richard Castle" is happy to just ape the show, albeit with less charm and little wit. Again and again it strikes me that Castle must not be a very good writer. We kind of know this on the show when he considers a contract to write James Bond novels (no offense, Eric Van Lustbader), but to be constantly reminded of it in the books supposedly written by the character feels like an insult. Why doesn't investigative reporter Rook know how to do research or investigate? Because "Richard Castle" doesn't want to do the research to show what that entails, because it would grow the character beyond a stand-in for Castle-on-TV, and because it would make the guess work the police do look very stupid in comparison.
Why can't this series get someone who will do the Castle books some level of justice? I have enjoyed some books that should be in the same vein of Castle's books. Surely there are authors on par with Stephen Woodworth or Philip Hawley, Jr. who would be willing to ghost write a Castle novel (there's a paycheck, right?). I don't know who actually writes these Castle books – I don't care enough to even search to see if that is readily available information – but it feels like it is a junior member of the show's writing staff who would not have a chance to get a book published otherwise.
Heat Rises felt like work for much of the book. It gets much better towards the end, where it starts to build some momentum and the characters stop being inconsistent. Then that falls apart and most of the elements are exposed as being unrelated to the central story and so they are just dropped. Not a good book, but if you feel the need to prove your fandom, go ahead and read it. Or read it again, because that means you are an even more serious fan.