Naked Heat: Compelling Murder Mystery or Cheap Tie In?

ABC has an excellent show called “Castle,” that is worth watching (and that is not just my love for Nathan Fillion giving that endorsement). It’s about a fictional writer, Richard Castle, who tags along with a female cop in order to do research for a series of books he writes, based on her. However, I’m not here to write about the show itself. ABC, in a rather brilliant form of marketing, has published two books under the Richard Castle name to tie in with the show. The first book, which was entitled, “Heat Wave,” was a short, fun read, keeping on par with the show.  So with high hopes, and without hesitation, I picked up the second book.

This is published as a legitimate book, including the fake author biography in the back. We’re supposed to take Richard Castle seriously as an author, but if that is the case, he’s a bit of a Mary Sue. The whole book is played out like an episode of the show, with the characters’ names changed.  For those of you that don’t know, a Mary Sue is a fan fiction trope where the author of the story inserts him or herself into what they’re writing about, usually as the main character. Everyone loves him or her and they solve all the problems that occur.
This is exactly what’s done here with the Richard Castle character inserting himself as Jameson Rook, the popular writer that everyone loves. It comes off as lazy writing to me, by both the ghost author and the fake author. We’re supposed to believe this is a New York Times bestselling author, and it just takes me out of the experience. I’m probably thinking about it too much, as this is just supposed to be a tie in book, but I need to explain this to get into the main problem I had with the plot.

The story itself is a basic murder mystery: New York’s most vicious gossip columnist is murdered and Detective Nikki Heat is put on the case, with Jameson Rook tagging along to help with his contacts. Being a famous columnist, there are dozens of suspects in the murder and the two of them spend a lot of time interviewing them. I realize this is a large part of solving actual murders, but for the first half of the book it just drags on as they go from suspect to suspect, getting no closer to solving anything, or even coming across any leads. While this may resemble a real police case, it makes for a dull read. The story picks up towards the end of the book, but getting there takes some effort on the part of the reader.
Most of the suspects interviewed are celebrities. However, none are specifically parodied, they’re just kept vague; the baseball player, the talk show host, the senator. We have no vested interest in these characters; they just feel like they’re taken from some generic mold. The real problem with this is that everyone who meets Jameson Rook (Castle’s avatar in the book) knows about him and loves him, showing off how famous he is. Now try to bear with me, as we’re about to get meta.

In the story we have Jameson Rook, a fictional character, showing off how famous he is, rubbing elbows with celebrities. Jameson Rook, is in turn a fictional character created by Richard Castle, that is based on himself to show off how famous he is, and what celebrities he knows. Richard Castle himself is a fictional character created by the show’s writers so they could write murder mysteries. Trying to find the right way to describe that hurt my brain a little.

The rest of the characters get little to no development, since they are based off characters on the show. Which is fine for a tie-in book (I kept being reminded of junior novelizations of movies as I read this), but for something that is supposed to be able to stand on its own, it fails completely.

You might try and defend this decision saying that Castle is supposed to be smarmy, and kind of arrogant. That would be fine, but I still can’t believe this is something a bestselling author would do.

As for the plot itself, it has some interesting twists to it, and makes for a compelling murder mystery once you get past what feels like a lot of filler for the first half. Once the second half of the book comes in, there is a lot of action and suspense, like any good murder mystery should have. You’re kept guessing as to who committed the murder, and why, and it builds up to a satisfying, action filled conclusion.

Naked Heat is a good tie-in book for Castle, and a decent mystery novel. Anyone can enjoy it separate from the show, but fans will get the most enjoyment out of it, since the characters in the book are straight from the show. The first half drags on a little, and the “author” self insertion is kind of weird if you over-think it. Really, the book was made for fans, and it isn’t going to attract any new viewers. I’d also recommend watching the show, it’s fun and usually doesn’t drag itself down with pointless interviews.

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