Richard Castle has certainly changed his writing style since he wrote Frozen Heat. As this novel was published just as he became engaged to his muse, it is an interesting change.
As a reader, I do not expect much from Castle’s books. All I am looking for is a couple of hours escape into a world I recognize, with people I recognize, who are solving a good crime. The last novel showed us that Castle can write a good mystery, one that keeps us guessing until the end. This installment, the fifth in the Nikki Heat series, failed to live up to that promise.
Picking up where Frozen Heat abruptly ended, this novel tells the story of Nikki continuing to work on her mother’s murder. Instead of that simply being the story told, there is also a serial killer on the loose who eventually comes after Nikki.
As she tries to simultaneously work on both cases, the narrative becomes clumsy and burdensome. Even the author has to continually tell us where Nikki is and which case she is working on. The problem is that, because each case is only allowed half the time to truly develop, neither is developed very well and fails to engage us on any real level.
It's not spoiling anything to tell you that the two cases converge at the end. To make that happen, however, the plot twists become rather apparent with the bad guys being telegraphed all too clearly. I had this one figured out about halfway through the book.
One of the joys of this series is seeing how Castle uses his experiences at the 12th Precinct to augment his characters and his story. In this novel, however, he failed to do so on any real level. In fact, many of the scenes or allusions to events and people we have met on the show felt shoehorned in. I felt as though, after he had turned in his first draft, Castle’s editor reminded him that his readers want some allusions and he just filled in some stories and not very well.
Having said that, some of the allusions are fun. There are the myriad of Firefly allusions that have become standard in these novels and the vest makes its first appearance. It says Journalist instead of Writer, but it was a fun moment when it appeared. There is also a minor subplot about Hollywood becoming interested in the story and Heat being against her life being portrayed on the screen that made me smile.
Castle tried to make this novel much more adult than the earlier ones. The violence and the sex have both been escalated and the language used is blue. Perhaps it is because I am so accustomed to Castle and Beckett speaking on television, but to read their counterparts swearing in nearly every sentence they utter was distracting and annoying.
I know this is a personal issue of mine, but people who constantly swear always strike me as not very articulate types. Don’t misunderstand me. A good curse can go a long way. But, when every other word is the f-bomb, it begins to feel as though Castle is trying to make a point, and not a very compelling one.
The romance between Jameson Rook and Nikki Heat has always been a step ahead of Caskett, especially in the early books when Castle was using his novels as a form of wish fulfillment. In this novel, however, Rook and Heat spend a great deal of time arguing and disagreeing about nearly everything that happens. As this book was written after Caskett became a couple, I found that an interesting choice.
I didn’t hate this book, but I certainly didn’t like it as much as I have the others. If you go into it as a light, breezy read with a predictable outcome and a few allusions to a show you love, you may find it an acceptable addition to the Castle world.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.