Heat Rises

Every time we watch a few episodes of Castle, I experience the irresistible urge to read another one of the Nikki Heat books. It’s a compulsion, I can’t help myself. I know there’s another potato chip in that bag, and it’s calling my name.

The third Nikki Heat book is Heat Rises, and so far, they are maintaining the illusion that the books are written by Richard Castle. What can I say? So far, it’s working for me. As a matter of fact, it’s working pretty darn well. The Nikki Heat books may be mind candy, but they are very tasty mind candy.

Heat Rises starts out with Heat and Rook enduring a separation in their slightly undefined relationship. However, the lack of definition in their relationship is more a question of whether their heated fling has turned into an exclusive relationship that involves four-letter words like “love”. All Nikki knows is that she misses Rook pretty badly while he is undercover in South America doing research on one of his dangerous in-depth articles, this time on illegal arms trafficking. He’s out of reach and she’s starting to want to know where they stand.

And it’s the middle of a very cold winter in New York City, and she’s also missing the warm body to sleep with at night. And not just for sleep.

Then the dead body turns up. In a dominatrix’ dungeon, strapped to a piece of bondage equipment. Unfortunately for the victim, where he was found is the last place he should have been seen, dead or alive. The homicide victim turns out to have been a Catholic priest.

The situation goes from bad, to worse, to crazy.

Her captain investigates the victim’s residence, alone. Then Internal Affairs starts breathing down his neck. Captain Montrose hasn’t been himself since his wife died a year previously, but something about this case sends him totally off the rails. He boxes Nikki in, hamstringing her investigation.

Meanwhile, Rook returns, and screws up. He has dinner with his editor, and gets his picture splashed all over the gossip columns, before he comes to see Nikki. The future for their relationship starts looking none too hot.

Last but certainly not least, the results of Nikki’s Lieutenant’s exam come in. Well, the rumors of those results leak out, all over the place. Nikki Heat scored higher than anyone in decades. Suddenly there are administrators from 1PP courting her as a rising star, while her Captain’s star is falling through the floor of his office, along with his entire career.

Suddenly her world collapses. She takes her investigation of the priest’s death out of the box the Captain has imposed. A professional hit squad guns for her. The Captain eats his gun. And Internal Affairs takes her shiny new, almost there promotion and doesn’t just whisk it away, but suspends Nikki Heat from the NYPD.

So who does she turn to? Jamison Rook.

Escape Rating B+/A-: If you’re looking for a few hours of pure escape, it’s all here. There’s a murder to solve, there’s a relationship to figure out, and there’s absolutely wonderful cop shop banter to chuckle over. I couldn’t put this one down.

I knew it had to parallel the third season of Castle, so I was looking for that, but at the same time, there are definitely differences. The case that brings Captain Montrose down, and why, is not the same one that brings Montgomery down. It does have to do with something from his past, but that’s the only similarity. And that’s part of why Heat Rises was so good. It used the story from the show as a jumping-off point, but didn’t slavishly follow events.

The dedication of the book to Montgomery is excellently done. I love the way that the books refuse to break the fourth wall. I’m looking forward to Nikki Heat’s next case, Frozen  Heat, in September.

Naked Heat

Richard Castle books are a lot like potato chips–you can’t read just one. As soon as I finished Heat Wave (see review) I started craving another Castle book, and I caved in within a couple of days and started Naked Heat. It was pure indulgence, and I loved every sinful page of it.

This story starts with Lt. Nikki Heat and her two detectives Raley and Ochoa discovering Jameson Rook at the scene of a recent homicide, listening to his iPod, with the body of the victim in the next room. (Any resemblances between events in the book and episodes of seasons 2 and 3 of Castle are undoubtedly intentional).

Heat hasn’t seen her former shadow and occasional lover, journalist Rook, for a few months. Not since his article in First Press magazine about his “ride-along” with her and her detectives was published. That article made her the focus of the piece, and brought her a lot of unwanted attention. Nikki only wants to be a cop, not a media darling. And the article made her look like a one-woman crimefighter, totally shortchanging her team.

No one at the Precinct really wanted to see Rook again. He’d screwed all of them in that article, one way or another.

But the dead body in the next room was Cassidy Towne, mud-slinging gossip-raker extraordinaire…and Jameson Rook’s current subject. Without, as he explained to Nikki, the sex.

Even if none of the team wanted Rook back, they needed him this time. He was the insider, both in the publishing world, and on the subject of Cassidy Towne’s current projects and potential enemies.

So they were stuck with Rook after all, trying to charm his way into everyone’s good graces again, and back into Nikki’s bed. All the while, trying to help the police solve the case of Cassidy Towne’s death before the killer strikes again.

Escape Rating B: I was struck by how much Nikki Heat reminds me of Eve Dallas in the J.D. Robb In Death series. And through Dallas, Sigrid Harald from Margaret Maron’s series as well. The tough female detective with the damaged past who builds a family out of the members of her precinct house, and eventually finds love in a most unlikely place. Nikki, Eve and Sigrid are all sisters under the skin.

But if Nikki is an avatar for Eve Dallas, Jameson Rook is no Roarke. Not on Rook’s best day and Roarke’s worst. I like Jameson Rook as a character, but there’s no resemblance. The analogy just doesn’t stretch that far, in spite of the similar names.

Jameson Rook, unlike Richard Castle, is a magazine writer, and presumbly doesn’t make as comfortable a living. So Rook has to supplement his earnings by writing under a pseudonym. And what does Jameson Rook write, and as whom? Under the name Victoria St. Clair, Jameson Rook writes romance novels. And he’s not the first fictional hero to make his living this way, either. In Tanya Huff’s Blood series, Victoria Nelson’s vampire partner, Henry Fitzroy, also wrote historical romances. I keep imagining Henry and Rook meeting at a romance writers’ convention. It would have to be at night, of course.

I read this book just for fun. I’m posting this review in the middle of the ALA Midwinter Conference because there are a lot of librarians out there on the conference floor picking up Advance Reading Copies to read, just for fun. Even more importantly, a big part of our jobs is to select books that folks in our communities we hope will be dying to read, just for fun.

Naked Heat is one of those books.

Heat Wave

I read Heat Wave by Richard Castle just for fun. We’re in the middle of a Castle marathon and I just couldn’t resist the impulse. And this was definitely a case where an irresistible impulse turned out to be a totally excellent thing!

“It’s raining men.” What a great way to open a case. This is just the kind of snark that comes with any potboiler, whether on television or in police procedural-type mysteries. Because what makes these shows watchable, or these books readable isn’t just about the case, it’s about listening to the characters smart-off with each other.

It always begins with a dead body. There’s a victim. Matthew Starr. He was the man who rained down, in this particular case. And as his death is investigated, any superficial resemblance to a low-budget Donald Trump is strictly intentional, but that is one reviewer’s humble opinion.

In all murder mysteries, it’s the victim’s life that gets taken apart. Matthew Starr is dissected piece by piece, and not just on the autopsy table. When the story ends, the detectives will know more about the victim than anyone in his life. They have to so they can figure out who murdered him and why.

And the readers learn a little more about the detectives and what makes them tick. And a little more about how they tick along together.

And how well one particular pair are going to tick together outside of “work”. Whether that’s going to be a one time thing or maybe more?

Escape Rating B+: The mystery had plenty of twists and turns. The case threw out the usual school of red herrings and I fell for a couple of them. I had most of it figured out, but one thing threw me. I had fun. But I’ll admit I’m not sure how well it will work for someone who isn’t a Castle fan.

This book is the introduction to a police procedural mystery series. Whether you swallow the whole Castle-thing or not, it still has to do what the introduction to any cop-based mystery series has to do, which is introduce you to the cop shop characters and their dynamic and get you to like them enough to get the next book. It worked for me. I’ve already got Naked Heat and Heat Rises on my iPad for the next time I need a fun book to read.

If you are a fan of Castle and you like reading mysteries, just give into the impulse now and buy the book. You know you want to. Stop resisting. You’ll be glad you did.