Title: Deadly Heat
Author: Richard Castle (Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Frozen Heat)
Page Count: 291
The Basics: After discovering the espionage conspiracy behind the murder of her mother, NYPD homicide detective Nikki Heat continues to hunt for the people responsible. Her quest for answers places her in the middle of complicated relationships with federal agents, international spies, and her partner (both professionally and romantically)—Jameson Rook. It also leads her to the uncovering of an imminent bioterrorism plot targeting New York City. While trying to stop the massive terrorist event, Nikki also has to deal with a more personal threat—a serial killer who is obsessed with her, to the point of making her his next target.
Strengths: Like all of the previous Nikki Heat novels, Deadly Heat’s greatest strength is the way it seamlessly incorporates details from the TV show it’s based on. For anyone who isn’t aware, the Nikki Heat series is the product of fictional author Richard Castle, the main character of the ABC procedural Castle. On the show, Castle begins writing the Nikki Heat series after being inspired by Kate Beckett, an NYPD homicide detective whose mother was murdered as part of a large political conspiracy. The popularity of the show led to the publishing of the tie-in Nikki Heat books, of which Deadly Heat is the fourth.
Deadly Heat is at its most enjoyable when it’s referencing classic moments from the last five seasons of Castle. Little details—from Nikki’s coffee order and the mention of a bulletproof “Writer” vest for Rook to Castle’s romantic dedication to Beckett that opens the novel—are designed to make Castle fans smile. And the entire plot of this novel harkens back to a pair of beloved Castle two-part episodes: Season Two’s serial killer showdown, “Tick, Tick, Tick…/Boom!” and Season Three’s terrorism thriller “Setup/Countdown.” The way the novel is able to take beloved Castle plots and rework them enough to still create suspense is impressive. It’s a nice blending of the comfortingly familiar and the excitingly unknown.
Deadly Heat’s greatest strength, independent of its connection to Castle, is its pacing. Each chapter seems to end on a cliffhanger, compelling you to keep reading, to keep peeling back more layers to these mysteries. The novel moves along at a breakneck pace, with enough twists and turns to keep readers intrigued even if they’ve never heard of Richard Castle before picking up this book. And the novel’s big twist ending is anything but anticlimactic; it was completely unexpected and yet perfect for both the novel itself and the fictional world that inspired it. Very rarely does a book give me a literal jaw-dropping moment, but the conclusion of Deadly Heat did exactly that.
Weaknesses: While Deadly Heat’s breathless pace makes for compelling reading on a plot level, it’s less compelling on a character-driven one. One of the things I loved most about last year’s Frozen Heat was the way it so deftly fleshed out the character of Nikki Heat and made me feel for her beyond her connection to Kate Beckett. By comparison, this novel struggled where its character arcs were concerned. Nikki’s growth as a character seemed to reach its peak at the end of Frozen Heat; here, she was given a lot to do as a detective but less to do as a woman with intense emotional investment in all of the action surrounding her. And the decision to try to throw in a rival for Rook’s affections in Agent Yardley Bell felt contrived. Just like their TV counterparts, Rook and Nikki’s relationship had reached a stable place where that kind of drama seems unnecessary and unbelievable. More than a few moments in the book reflect on Nikki’s latent jealousy, but that was hard for me to believe given how strong her connection with Rook is in this book and previous ones in the series (especially Frozen Heat).
I think this novel would have faired better in terms of its characterization if it only had one major case to focus on rather than two. I did like how both cases came together at the end, but I’m not sure why it was necessary to have both the serial killer plot and the bioterrorism plot in the same book. There was so much happening in this novel. While that allowed for continuous moments of breathtaking plot twists, it left little time for the kind of interesting character development that made Frozen Heat such a strong novel and makes Castle such a strong television show.
My Favorite Passage: (From the novel’s Acknowledgments) “You will excuse me if I have one eye on my loft’s west-facing window as I also acknowledge how the starts also miraculously aligned to make this novel happen. And the brightest in that firmament is a heavenly body known as Kate Beckett, who fills my heart with motivation, encouragement, and the awesome power of elegant life example.”
Final Thoughts: Deadly Heat isn’t the best Nikki Heat novel, but it’s by no means the worst. It may have been a little thin on the character-development front, but it still told a strong story and managed to make me feel invested in not one but two cases. I’m sure it helps that I am a very passionate (okay…obsessive) Castle fan, but I think that puts me in the target demographic for these books anyway. If you’re a fan of a good mystery or thriller, then I think you’ll enjoy Deadly Heat’s twists and turns, even if it’s not the greatest mystery novel ever written. And if you’re a fan of Castle, then it should be even more enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of the Castle/Beckett relationship. If you love the latter, you should read this book for its dedication and acknowledgments alone; they’re enough to make even the most jaded fangirl smile.
Grade: B –