Friday, February 12, 2010

What We're Reading: Heat Wave

I love Nathan Fillion. That’s my excuse.

If you are a fan, as I am, of the Sci Fi channel (now ridiculously re-christened SyFy—but why?), you may have caught reruns of the short-lived Joss Whedon series Firefly, or its sequel as a feature film, Serenity. Firefly debuted on the Fox network in 2002, ran for 11 episodes (although 14 were shot), and disappeared. It was a great show—interesting premise, well written scripts, good stories—with ratings that caused it to be cancelled before it could really catch hold. The fans clamored for more, so Whedon made the movie as a follow-up, and it was every bit as engaging.

Several of the good ship Serenity’s eight-member crew of actors have surfaced recently on high-profile TV shows. The aforementioned Nathan Fillion, less terse and more tongue-in-cheek than when he was a space cowboy, is now starring in Castle (on ABC) as a famous mystery novelist who is doing a ridealong with NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) as research for his new mystery series featuring Beckett as detective Nicki Heat.

The chemistry between Rick Castle and Kate Beckett is reminiscent of Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis) in Moonlighting back in 1984, though not quite so love-hate. The basic premise is: Murders happen, Beckett and her homicide team work the cases, and Castle comes along for the ride (against Beckett’s wishes, thus the source of the friction between these two), alternately helping and hindering with solving the murders while making notes for his novels.

ABC has done the ultimate promotional tie-in for its series by actually getting Hyperion Books to publish a novel, Heat Wave, by Richard Castle, which is supposed to be the fictional writer’s first novel based on Kate Beckett. (Yes, this is where we finally get to the “what we’re reading” part.) The book is written by an anonymous author under the pseudonym Richard Castle, and is completely in character, featuring a photo of Nathan Fillion on the back of the slipcover as the author, and a dedication “To the extraordinary KB and all my friends at the 12th” (which would be Kate Beckett and the 12th precinct). My inner cynic was chiding me, but I whipped out my library card and checked it out anyway.

I have to say, it wasn’t bad. They (whoever put it together—probably one of the screenwriters) did a creditable job of character development and plotting, and the mystery writing was pretty solid.

What disappointed me was that the book was a mirror image of the plot of the TV show. It is a book written by a mystery writer who is researching a homicide detective, about...a reporter who is researching a homicide detective. The main characters, Jameson Rook (rook = castle—get it?) and Nikki Heat, are such thinly veiled versions of Castle and Beckett that the author might as well have just skipped the pseudonyms. I have enjoyed the fictional character of Richard Castle, with his critically acclaimed mystery series of 26 books featuring Derrick Storm, all presumably ending up on the bestseller list, so I was completely charmed by the idea that ABC would publish “his” first novel in his new series about Nikki Heat; but after reading Heat Wave, I felt strongly that it should have been a “real” novel, with Nikki as the star of the book, rather than making it just a copycat of the show's premise.

As I said, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I was caught up in the story and enjoyed reading it, and I’m sure other Castle fans will too. But it could have been much more: Rather than a one-off promotional stunt, it could have been the start of a new (albeit anonymous) mystery writer’s career, given a boost by the TV tie-in onto the bestseller list for more than just this slim volume.

1 comment:

misty said...

I actually went to Barnes and Nobles for the Nathan Fillion signing of the book written by the fictional character he plays (yes, it was quite meta) and after reading it, here's my two cents: enjoyable, a light read and a TOTAL Mary Sue. :)