Tell me if you’ve heard this one. A priest walks into a bondage bordello and… No? You haven’t heard that one? Oh, you think my joke is tasteless. My apologies, but I’m not the only one telling stories like this. The new book by Richard Castle, Heat Rises, starts the same way. Really? Well, go on then, if you’d rather read that book and not hear my joke.
Anyway, Heat Rises is the third in the Nikki Heat series of books in the ever meta world of Richard Castle, the TV show “Castle,” the actors that portray the characters, and the still-mysterious person writing these books. Oh, my bad. It’s really “Richard Castle” writing these books, and I’m here to say that he should increase his proficiency and bust out more than one book a year. I love these things.
In this new mystery, Detective Nikki Heat is called to the S&M dungeon where the body of man who turns out to be a priest, Father Graf, is found strapped to an apparatus, dead, with evidence of torture. Was that torture part of some hidden, kinky game Graf was involved in, or something worse? Heat, her partners, Ochoa and Raley (standing in for Esposito and Ryan from the TV show), have little to go on, but soon uncover a rather intricate plot that waxes over numerous suspects and leads.
In the season finale of the TV, it was revealed that Captain Montgomery was a part of the conspiracy surrounding the death of Kate Beckett’s mother. In this book, the author has Montgomery’s stand-in—Montrose; need a scorecard?—involved with this murder. He’s been acting strange and re-directing Heat’s investigation to a direction they both know will lead nowhere. Why might the captain be doing that? What is he hiding? As the evidence mounts, Heat is convinced, but doesn’t want to believe, that her mentor and captain is in on this thing.
One subplot is Nikki Heat’s potential promotion. On a lark, she took the promotion written exam and aced it. The open secret is that Heat will earn her lieutenant’s bars, and the interview portion of the process is a mere formality. Castle handles the politics of promotion so well that you get the impression that’s how things really go. Guess he learned that on his ride-along with Heat a few years ago.
The problem is, of course, that Heat gets too close to the truth and is stripped of her badge, her gun, and her job. Suspended, she has to turn to the only person who has the freedom to help her: Jameson Rook. Now, a word about Heat and Rook. Every week, the writers of the TV show have perform the delicate dance around the relationship between Beckett and Castle. Many viewers fear the “Moonlighting” Effect—that is, once the two leads get together, the show goes downhill. You could make the same case for “Lois and Clark.” Can’t speak to “Bones,” but by the time Mulder and Scully got together, “The X-Files” was already a pale shadow of what it used to be. I, for one, enjoy the dance and don’t want to see Castle and Beckett together anytime soon. But I do expect them to have their moment.
In the mirror universe that is the Nikki Heat books, they two leads do get together, and it can serve as a nice blueprint for the TV show writers. Heat and Rook clearly like each other, but things still get in the way. Since these books are almost exclusively told from Heat’s POV, you get to understand just how important it is for her to have a man like Rook—a non-cop—act as a refuge from the daily grind of the job. I find the relationship to be just right, and look forward to seeing how it plays out in future books.
In all three books, there has been a central action sequence that is written with such style and professionalism that it’s almost a textbook example of how to do action. The first book, Heat Wave, had Nikki fighting an intruder in her apartment after she’s left the bathtub. The second, Naked Heat, had Nikki battling a professional killer in Rook’s apartment. In this third book, the stakes are raised by ten. Nikki is trapped in an underpass, with a black suburban driven by a sniper behind her, and three trained riflemen approaching from ahead of her. She gets off a few rounds, but then loses her gun. How she escapes is pretty remarkable.
I have enjoyed all three of these Nikki Heat books, the second just slightly more than this one. But all are wonderfully enjoyable and Castle the writer—or whomever is really writing these things—has an effortless grace with his/her prose. It’s a page-tuner, but not the typical cliffhanger-every-three-pages type thing. It just moves and moves.
For those who watch the TV show: there’s the scene in this season’s premiere episode where Beckett and Castle talk after one of his book signings for Heat Rises. They discuss two things. One is the dedication. I’ll go ahead and divulge it here since it’s not a spoiler:
To Captain Montgomery, NYPD
He made a stand and taught me all I need to know about bravery and character
(Doesn’t your head spin with the meta nature of it all?)
Two, they obliquely discuss the ending of the book. Here’s a link to the episode online.
Beckett: Must’ve been hard to write that ending.
Castle: Yup, considering the circumstances.
For that to truly ring home, folks, you’ll have to read this darn good book.
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