(This is the November 2010 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)
Trying to wrap your brain around the Nikki Heat Novel Concept is like Doc Brown trying to explain alternate universes to Marty McFly. “Naked Heat” is the second novel written by Richard Castle, the protagonist of the ABC television show “Castle.” On TV, Castle is played by Nathan Fillion, who photograph in on the back of the dust jacket of the new novel. In the show, Castle tags along with New York Police Detective Kate Beckett, using her as the inspiration for the character of Nikki Heat, the protagonist of the Nikki Heat novels.
Confused? You could be excused if you are, but there’s one thing that’s without question: the Nikki Heat novels, whoever wrote them, are good. Last year, I reviewed the first book, “Heat Wave,” for the November 2009 Book Review Club. How ironic that, nearly a year to the date, I am reviewing the second one.
If you caught the season premiere of this, the third season of “Castle,” then you’ll remember that Beckett and her team bust into the scene of a crime only to find Richard Castle himself there, looking rather guilty. In “Naked Heat,” there’s a similar thread. It’s October in the novel. The magazine article Jameson Rook (i.e., Castle’s stand-in) wrote about Nikki Heat (Beckett’s stand-in) has hit the stands, but Rook is nowhere to be found. What complicates this relationship is that Rook and Heat had a romance in the first book. Heat broke it off, but you can tell that she’s still got feelings for him.
Heat and her two lead detective helpers, Raily and Ochoa, (AKA “Roach”) are looking into the death of an apparent homeless person, dubbed Coyote Man, when they get a second call. Upon entering the apartment, the discover a dead body, stabbed in the back, slumped at her desk. They hear a sound from the kitchen and, bursting in, guns drawn, find Jameson Rook. The dead body is Cassidy Towne, gossip columnist for the New York Ledger. Rook, it turns out, was doing a feature on Towne as a follow-up to his successful piece on Heat, but “without the sex” he assures Nikki.
Thus, the team of Heat and Rook, like Beckett and Castle, are together again. And, all things considered, this book was pretty darn good. It has an effortless grace to it, a seamless string of good scenes and sparkling dialogue that is a pure joy. It’s easily better than “Heat Wave” despite the fact that I really enjoyed Heat #1. Like an episode of “Castle,” Naked Heat is not deep and thought provoking. It’s fun. And, more importantly, the “why” of the murders (as always, there are more than one) was cleverly hidden until the right moment.
“Castle” has been my favorite TV show since it started airing a couple of years ago. Just yesterday, I re-watched the pilot and was surprised at how well it holds up, what with all the ingredients of the “Castle” formula ready from the get-go. The Nikki Heat books are exactly the same way. The pieces are so well defined that you’d think they’ve been around for years. It is my sincere hope that two things happen. One, that ABC keeps paying the ghost writer to write new Nikki Heat books. And, two, that ABC never reveals the true writer. In this meta-fiction-within-fiction conceit, that’s one mystery that I don’t want solved.
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