I never got into Richard Castle’s Derek Storm novels, because I try to avoid things that hit bestseller status–in no small part because I’ve had one too many instances of “bestseller” being code for “hamfisted writing”. Plus, there’s been all the media hype about how Castle’s such a ruggedly handsome jetsetter of an author, and the whole thing about him tagging along with the NYPD by way of the world’s longest publicity stunt to promote a new series, yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah but can the man actually write?
I had my doubts, I have to say, when I learned that the lead character of his shiny new series is named Nikki Heat. Let me emphasize that: Nikki Heat. Say what? C’mon, I thought that the romance genre was supposed to be the one with all the stupidly named characters. “Heat” isn’t even a name you’d see in romance novels. It’s more like something you’d see in badly executed porn.
If you can get past the godawful name for the character, you’ll get to a rather eye-rolling central personality concept for her: Nikki is the prototypical tough cop chick who really just wants to have a relationship and a life. Granted, she’s also got her share of being a competent detective going on, and she has plenty of reason to be devoted to her career. But did we really have to go down the route of “but what she really wants is a relationship?” And did this have to get more emphasis in her character development than the fact that she’s also got a lot invested in her career as a cop? While the book didn’t go overboard with this to the point that I wanted to smack it against a wall, it was still frustrating to see that kind of stereotypical portrayal for a lead female character. Nikki Heat is, I fear, no real match for Eve Dallas.
And, of course, Jameson Rook, our male lead, has “Marty Stu” written all over him. Having the love interest be a journalist tagging along with the NYPD was just not the right move, Mr. Castle, sorry; it’s like putting yourself into the story wearing glasses and a different jacket, and hoping nobody would notice.
Now, all this said? Aside from these big glaring flaws, the story’s actually not half bad. Despite her annoying name and central motivation, Nikki is a competent detective when the story lets her be, and she’s believable doing her job. Rook’s a Marty Stu, but at least he’s a likeable one, and I do have to admit that having a civilian involved with the police investigation does lend a feel to the reader of “really being there”. The murder mystery to be solved is decently suspenseful, and Castle’s prose, while never truly noteworthy, is nonetheless engaging and readable. Three stars.
Addendum: In case it’s not obvious, this review is written entirely in-character. If ABC can give us a novel from the Castle universe, I can review it as such! But I’ll also, out of character, give it an extra star just because the sheer fact that this novel exists makes me giggle and giggle. So the real ranking? Four stars!