First, let me say I’ve been thinking of doing book reviews for a while. This is coming from a variety of motivations, one of my favorites being that it might get me to start digging into all the hundreds of books I’ve bought over the years, fully intending to read, but have never yet read. Which is a goal related to my increase in checking out books from the library (and not getting around to reading them all, either), and to my increasing need for new bookcases to hold all my (mostly unread) books. Yes, I’m a writer who isn’t also a voracious reader. I have more reasons, most of which I won’t list here, but another of which is that I’ve been working on increasing the volume of my reading, but failing to do all but the most cursory of reviews (simple star-ratings on Goodreads) – I’d like to do a bit more. So here’s a start. I don’t know whether this will keep up, or what I’ll do with the formatting over time, if it does. Your feedback is welcome, though, as always, unexpected.
As if to start off on the absolute wrong foot, I’m going to review a book that isn’t really a book by an author who isn’t even a real person, a meta-book that isn’t even about what it’s about. Sorry.
Heat Wave – by Richard Castle
ISBN: 9781401323820 (Hardback, 199pp)
Borrowed from the Phoenix Library
If you aren’t aware, there exists a television show called Castle, currently in its second season on ABC. The premise of the show is that a famous and successful author of crime/thriller novels has used his connections and charm to be allowed to “ride along” with New York City homicide detectives as research for a book with a homicide detective main character. The premise of the book (Heat Wave) is that it is the novel that the fictional novelist wrote, based on his experiences in the first season of the show.
I enjoy watching Castle, largely because the main character of the novelist is played by Nathan Fillion, and because he is given plenty of witty things to say and fun situations to play in. I’m not much of a fan of crime/thriller/procedural dramas that take themselves seriously, but as a comedy it’s alright. It’s certainly worth the 20hrs/year, and my wife and my sister also watch it. When we realized that Heat Wave, heavily featured in the 2nd season of the show, was actually a real book one could get and read, my wife requested it from the library. When it came in, Mandy read it, my sister read it, and now -since it’s coming due and there’s a waiting list (so it can’t be renewed) at the library- I read it.
If you are a fan of the series, it may be worth reading. If I were to give it a rating as an episode of the TV show, I would give it four and a half stars, primarily based on the storyline and the comedy. If I were to give it a rating based on its writing, I would give it two stars. It wasn’t so terrible I couldn’t finish it (see P&P&Z) but it was difficult to read – on a sentence by sentence basis, and as a whole. (More so if I were to pretend it was actually a novel by Richard Castle.) Some of this may be that I don’t read crime novels, I don’t like thrillers, and I’m not used to reading the style of book the (actual) author was aiming for.
I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the story, except to say that -aside from the brief sex scene wedged into the middle of the book- it exactly follows the basic structure of the show, and is like reading an extra episode of the show. The only variation from the formula for an episode of the show was Castle going home & having a conversation with his mother/daughter which suddenly gives him an insight that helps break the case. All the characters from the show have been renamed, but it’s literally like someone did a novelization of a teleplay of an unaired episode, then did a find/replace to change the names.
I think this is supposed to be satisfying to fans of the show, since the book delivers more of what the author knows they like, but it made the character of Richard Castle seem like a terrible author. Like he had no imagination and was just writing down whatever he saw and heard with no filter and nothing (but that sex scene) added. Ninety percent of the details in the book seemed to be pulled directly from the screen, and half the dialogue. This led to a lot of awkward sentences and situations, trying to wedge something we’d recognize from the show onto every page and into every conversation. This might have worked better if Castle on the show had been constantly taking notes, but the pseudo-Castle character in the book seemed to take notes more than the Castle character does on TV.
The awkward writing resulted in a reading rate about 50% slower than my average reading rate. I set down last night to read it in one sitting and it actually took over 5 hours to read the 200 pages. There were three short sections of the book that flowed really well and seemed well-polished. One was an action sequence (notable because one of the characters was nude – something they couldn’t have done on network television), which made it seem like the actual author (not the fictional Richard Castle) was more comfortable writing action-packed books than TV comedy/drama. One was the brief sex scene, which -since they gave the page number on an episode of the show- they could expect would be the most-read and most-closely-read few pages of the book, so it just seemed like they’d spent more time re-writing and polishing that scene and made the rest seem even worse. Then there was the end of the book: The resolution to the story also seemed well-written and highly polished; like they were counting on people’s whole impression of the book being based on the last thing they read. I know it’s true for a lot of people, but I wish they’d put as much effort into the rest of the book.
If Richard Castle’s writing was as bad as this, his character loses a lot of his charm and believability. And Beckett (the detective character on the TV show) loses hers, based on her impression of and experience with the book, in the series. They’re both supposed to be intelligent and well-read, but this book … doesn’t fit. Since I’m aware that this is actually just part of a marketing campaign for the show, the throw-away writing pandering to (and ripping off) the show at every turn (rather than being a well-written and imaginative story merely inspired by the fictional events of Castle’s experiences and written with an authorial voice on par with the Castle portrayed on the show), I can accept it. It is what it is. It isn’t what it pretends to be.
Okay. So I’m not very good at reviewing books, yet. I’ll keep reading, hopefully keep reviewing, and perhaps with practice I’ll get better at it. But there you go, some words about Heat Wave.