Sunday, October 2, 2011

Heat Rises, by Richard Castle

Clearly, I love to read.  But I don’t think I would characterize reading as my favorite method of relaxation.  I have to be in a particular mood to read, but I’m always in the mood for some TV.  I think that has something to do with my interest in the zeitgeist – TV is the common means through which we share culture and experiences.

Now, a couple of years ago, ABC piloted a show that caught my attention and admiration right away: Castle.  It had everything I look for in a TV show: humour, great writing, and good characters.  (Nathan Fillion didn’t hurt either – I’ve always considered him to be the American version of Sean Bean.  And everyone who knows me knows how much I love Sean Bean.)  The premise to the show was the most appealing aspect, however.  Castle is a mystery writer who tags along on murder investigations with the NYPD.  Add some plucky B-story characters, and a David/Maddy love interest between Castle and the lead homicide detective he follows, and you’ve got a show that I snap up on DVD when new seasons become available, and am already dreading the cancellation of.

But, this isn’t a blog about my favorite TV shows, so why am I spending all this time talking about TV?  Because, the only thing I like better than TV and reading is when things get meta (it’s almost like high-functioning irony, which I am also a fan of).  And Castle does meta to perfection.   

The same day that season 4 of Castle premiered, Heat Rises, Richard Castle’s 3 book dropped.  Wait.  What did I just say?  A fictional TV character released a book?  And not just one book, but three?  That’s right.  Meta!  I’ve been snapping up the Heat books since they first started appearing.  But let’s have some context on how/why this happens: Richard Castle was the author of a popular series of detective novels until, bored with his main character, he killed him off.  Looking for new inspiration, Castle started shadowing a detective with the NYPD (Beckett), who served as the inspiration for his new character, Nikki Heat.  Castle follows Beckett around for most of the year, then leaves in late spring to go write his book, which is inevitably released in the fall, just when he starts shadowing her again (and just as the TV season starts up).  

So, for the last 3 years, a new Richard Castle book is released by ABC and Hyperion publishers every September.  As to who the real author is, I have no clue.  Nor have I tried to find out.  I rather leave my fiction in the meta world – it’s a unique situation that I’ve never encountered before, and I enjoy.  It must, however, be one (or more) of the series writers.  Each book reads like a lengthier episode of Castle; the dialogue, the pacing, and the characters are all mirrored in the characters in the TV show (i.e., fictional characters based on fictional characters.  Still with me?).  The premise of the books are similar to the show – journalist Jamison Rooke shadowed Nikki Heat for a magazine article he wrote about her.  Though they no longer work together, Rooke is around to help Heat with her current investigations.

For fans of the show, these books are loaded with multiple layers.  Often times, characters or plot lines from episodes of the show turn up as scenery dressing for the books.  The main plot line (the relationship between Heat and Rooke) are like peaking behind the door of what might come to pass in the TV show between Beckett and Castle.  Since I love this show so much, I’ve been following the news stories on it, and it looks like this might be the year that a Castle/Beckett relationship gets traction.  If you’ve read the books, you already have an idea of what that might look like.

A specific note on Heat Rises: There is a moment of meta to the fourth-power in this book that I loved.  While interrogating a suspect, Heat is told by the man that he reminded her of the latest Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.  Why did this hit me so hard as a great joke?  Because I have a good eye for detail, that’s why.  Before landing the TV show Castle, Stana Katick (Detective Kate Beckett) had a full 20 seconds on screen opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond, playing a Canadian CSIS agent who had been seduced by a rogue spy into giving up state-secrets.  And in what movie does she appear?  Why, Quantum of Solace, of course.  A character in a book, based on a TV show, referencing a movie in which a start of the TV show appeared?  You’ve got to give it up to the writers for getting that detailed in the adhesion to the meta-ness that is the situation, and to anyone who was able to catch the joke.

All told, I love these books.  But I don’t know if I would like them if I weren’t a fan of the show.  I suppose they would stand up if I hadn’t seen Castle, but I can’t even hypothesize about it, since Castle is one of my faves and I can’t detach one from the other.  I guess since I am invested in the characters, I’m able to read more in the subplot and context than I would if I came to these books cold.  I’d be interested in the impressions of anyone not a fan of the show who has read the books to see what they think.  In the end, I highly recommend both the show Castle and the books Naked Heat, Heat Wave, and Heat Rises.  But I suggest getting the Castle DVDs first, and watching/reading them in the order the show creators intended.