You all know I’m a Browncoat and a fan of “Castle,” as well. I may have also mentioned that one of my guilty pleasures is reading the “Richard Castle Mysteries,” the series of novels ghost written under the Richard Castle nom de plume.
I’m generally not a fan of mystery novels. I find them too formulaic and (frankly) unbelievable. I admit, I went through a Nero Wolfe phase in my youth, scarfing up every dog-eared Rex Stout paperback I could find, but I recovered. These days, the only ones I can read are police procedurals because, let’s face it, who’s more likely to come into contact with murders and murderers time after time: an old pensioner from Sussex, or a homicide detective?
I’ve read all the Nikki Heat books, and am reading Deadly Heat now. Part of my enjoyment of these books is the conceit; I’m reading a book “written” by a fictional character, a book that is mentioned in the TV series, and which often debuts on bookshelves on the same night it debuts on the television show. The book mimics action played out during the previous season in the TV show, as if it were really the product of this fictional character’s fictional life. And built within the book are characters and references to events that appear in the television show. It’s a wonderful gimmick that I really enjoy. Now, throw in a handful of “self-awareness” references, such as acknowledgments that thank not only characters from the show, but also (by first name only) actors who portray those characters. And then, to top it off, toss in a handful of really “meta” references, pointing back to “Firefly” and other works the actors have done outside the “Castle” world.
In all, it’s layers upon layers, fiction upon fiction, all with a wink and a nod to the real world and real life.
The “Richard Castle” books are ghost written by an author whose name has been a tightly guarded secret. There are several guesses as to who actually wrote the books, but the best guess I’ve read so far is that it’s Tom Straw. Straw has strong ties to the television industry, has writing creds for TV shows going back decades, has written a book under his own name, and has made a cameo on the “Castle” series (a fact that is the only hint ABC has allowed as to the ghost writer’s identity).
However, I think he may have taken some time off.
Previous books in the series have been tightly written, light with banter and quick to read. Deadly Heat, however, has been clunky. Sentences bumble awkwardly along, using words like “chilliness” and homonyms that allow for multiple interpretations. The POV use is jarring; for most of the book, the author sticks with the POVs of the two main characters, ineptly swapping between them in the course of a scene perhaps, but keeping it limited to just the two of them. Then, 80% of the way through the book, suddenly s/he throws in a new POV, stays with it for about three pages, and then drops it. That’s jarring, amateurish, and unlike any of the previous books.
This book is also clunky in its plotlines. While the previous books were pretty straightforward catch-the-killer rides, here we have the standard television double-threaded plots: Plot A is the plot specific to the episode/novel and Plot B is the “meta-plot” that spans several episodes/seasons/novels. The main problem with it here, though, is that it’s all gotten so convoluted, it’s getting like the last seasons of “The X-Files” where you need a program just to know who’s who. In addition, the book is relatively transparent in its use of red herrings and attempted misdirection. I haven’t reached the end, yet, but already I can tell that it’s going to need one big expository block to explain away all the coincidences.
So, either we’ve got a new ghost writer, or it was ham-handedly rewritten by ABC once they got the details of the television series hammered out. Or, it’s just not the author’s best work (which it isn’t).
I’ll probably finish it off tonight, and yes, I’ll buy the next one, but until then I’ll be hoping that next time there will be more pleasure than guilt in this guilty pleasure.