Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Heat Will Not Be Denied

Though not absolutely necessary to read first, here is my review of the previous Nikki Heat novel, Heat Wave.

Naked Heat
~Naked Heat~
Nikki Heat
Book 2
By Richard Castle
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

When New York's most vicious gossip columnist, Cassidy Towne, is found dead, Heat uncovers a gallery of high-profile suspects, all with compelling motives for killing the most feared muckraker in Manhattan.

Heat's murder investigation is complicated by her surprise reunion with superstar magazine journalist Jameson Rook. In the wake of their recent breakup, Nikki would rather not deal with their raw emotional baggage. But the handsome, wise-cracking, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's personal involvement in the case forces her to team up with Rook anyway. The residue of their unresolved romantic conflict and crackling sexual tension fills the air as Heat and Rook embark on a search for a killer among celebrities and mobsters, singers and hookers, pro athletes and shamed politicians.

This new, explosive case brings on the heat in the glittery wold of secrets, cover-ups, and scandals.

[One of the few times the jacket summary covers everything I wanted to say and doesn't go farther than exposing the first 50-or-so pages. Bravo, Hyperion.]

In April of 2010 I wrote and posted my first book review on this blog. Now, just over a year later, I've read and reviewed its sequel. It really takes me back to how far I've come, you know? But enough reflection and on to my review.

I could go into a bunch of background info about Castle and comparisons, but I don't want to repeat myself from my last review. That being said, I have to say I'm extremely impressed with the improvement between Heat Wave and Naked Heat. For those who haven't read the first novel, it's not necessarily a pre-requisite for the sequel. Most of the information is recounted for the uninformed (or forgetful, in my case) and I honestly don't think I lost anything in not re-reading its predecessor. But from what I do remember (and what I picked up from re-reading my review), the improvements came not only in copy-editing (only 1 typo this time!), but the characters, the plot, everything just felt tighter, more in-sync with what I'd expect of a mystery/crime novel.

As my regular readers know, mystery/crime fiction is not my usual genre. Taking that into account, those readers more familiar with the genre might find this book a bit simplistic in its make-up. I, however, appreciated the fact that I never got lost and never suspected the actual killer until it was revealed. It was just the right balance of information and suspense that keeps you hungering for more. I'll admit, there were times when the plot stalls a bit, but let me assure you that the characters are more than enough to pull you through.

The characters are just as sharp as ever—even more so, actually. Nikki is the same kick-ass heroine, balancing precariously between independence and solitude, seriousness and humor, feeling too little and feeling too much. I do find it slightly annoying that in both books Nikki is assaulted by a killer. In Heat Wave it was a fight to the death in her own apartment, and this time it's an abduction and torture. I understand the desire to juxtapose the tough, no-nonsense cop by also making her a victim, but do we need it so bluntly depicted in each book? I sincerely hope this doesn't become a recurring theme.

Rook is definitely less conflicted, serving to further illustrate the complexity of the heroine, but his wit and sense of humor are always a joy to read. Raley and Ochoa also tend to be on the comic-relief side, but they too have their serious moments to balance things out. I especially enjoyed when the narrative perspective traveled from Nikki to focus on one of the others. Especially Rook's perspective, which masterfully fed the sexual tension of the story.

It's interesting to note how the author still manages to create sexual tension in a series where sex happens. Off screen, of course, but still there. In TV shows it seems like the only way to have sexual tension is to keep the characters as close together as possible without actually letting them "get together". Here, however, the action of sex is less a victory or a finale, because the main battle between the two characters is whether or not they can remain friends. Heat and Rook haven't yet hit that chemistry point where nothing can pull them apart, so getting them in bed together doesn't seem nearly as fulfilling as getting them to crack jokes together in the daylight.

Overall, this was an excellent mystery and addition to what looks to be turning into a fantastic series. Fans of Castle are probably the main audience for this series, but I think this book especially will appeal to mystery or crime fiction readers who don't mind a little humor and romance mixed in with their murder. Based on the steamy scenes and some graphic language, I'd recommend this for an older audience, definitely not below high school. In short, if you're in the mood for a fun, steamy, witty romp through the city that never sleeps and don't mind a bit of intrigue, scandal, and murder on the side, you should pick up Naked Heat now.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Johnny Heller
Length: 11 Hours
Listened at 2x Speed

This one is kind of a slow read—not in pacing, but in narration. I even tried speeding up the audio more than 2x but my player starts chopping at that speed. The slower pace of speech might conflict a bit with the more exciting scenes, but at least you shouldn't have any worries about mishearing him.

Voice acting is not really his strong suit (something I find more common with male readers than female) but he does make due. I thought it was kinda cool that he actually sounded similar to Nathan Fillion (Castle on the show), but that may have been helped along by wishful thinking.

I think what I was most thankful for was the translations of the abbreviations. Some sections in the book contained a great deal of cop jargon, abbreviations, and initializations—fine for a seasoned crime/mystery reader, but a bit confusing to a dabbler in the genre. Thus I found it extremely helpful that some of the lesser-known terms were spelled-out instead of read as-is. Though, I will admit I started wondering where I had drifted off to when he started reading "Yes" or "No" instead of the text message's "Y" or "N".

If I had one wish for the narration, it would be that when songs or song-tunes showed up in the text, we could have gotten some musical rendition instead of just a straight read. Even a background track (though I'm sure they're all copyrighted and would have cost some major $$) would have been nice. Still, I'd definitely recommend this audiobook for the mystery/crime/romance listeners out there who are hungry for a little Heat.