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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Richard Castle’s Secret Ambitions

Some claim he’s a starship captain, others that he’s the actor Nathan Fillion.  Some even assert that his novels are ghostwritten.  I sympathize with these doubters.  It’s sad that TV executives have replaced so many quality dramas with low-cost reality shows.  But regardless of the conspiracies that surround him, Richard Castle emerges from our TV screens as a witty and vivacious author.  With his latest book, Heat Rises, he not only demonstrates talent worthy of a bestselling novelist, but his growth as a human being.  

When Nikki Heat is summoned to an underground sex club at four in the morning, she discovers the body of a man bound to a Saint Andrew’s cross.  The victim turns out to be a priest: Father Graf of Our Lady of the Holy Innocents.  At the vicarage, the housekeeper tells her that Captain Montrose searched Graf’s belongings earlier, supposedly in response to a missing person’s report she filed.  But why should Captain Montrose search a missing priest’s house, when he’s already spending so much time down at One Police Plaza, making politically correct gestures to fend off an investigation by Internal Affairs?  When she finally talks with him, Montrose insists that she only investigate the priest’s death from the BDSM angle, even after she discovers $150,000 in Father Graf’s attic.  

It’s easy to see how Richard Castle drew inspiration from those he worked with during his first three “seasons.”  All the familiar faces are thinly disguised for our enjoyment.  Richard Castle becomes Jameson Rook, Kevin Ryan becomes Sean Raley, Javier Esposito is renamed Miguel Ochoa, and Lanie Parish renamed Lauren Parry.  Even Captain Montgomery, who sadly died at the end of last year’s “season,” is resurrected as Captain Montrose.  And everyone interacts largely as they do in real life: Lauren counsels Nikki on her lovelife, Raley and Ochoa work so closely together they’re known collectively as Roach, and Nikki’s relationship with her captain, while strained, is still based upon mutual respect and affection. 

Richard Castle also indulges in his love of wordplay.  From Pleasure Bound, the name of the underground sex club, to Father Graf (hidden money = graft) of the “Holy Innocents,” to some of the sex trade workers Nikki investigates along the way, who use such performance names as Marty Python, Hans Alloffur, and The Red Barin’, Castle's clearly writing in full smirk mode.  Raley and Ochoa’s police car becomes the Roach Coach.  And don't even get me started on the double entendres! I’m sure there’s lots more examples I haven’t listed or spotted: I look forward to discovering them during my second read-through.

The only name Castle utterly transforms is Kate Beckett’s.  The reason for this grows clearer with each novel.  While Nikki Heat’s life and past are remarkably similar to Kate’s, her present is very different.  Unlike Kate, Nikki braves having a relationship with Jameson Rook.  She consummates in Fiction what Kate shies away from in real life, and in so doing, becomes everything Richard Castle desires her to be.  

Likewise, Castle uses the novel to explore his secret ambitions.  When misunderstandings arise, Rook lays himself utterly bare before Nikki, and so works through any problem, leaving no room for further miscommunication.  He also changes his career.  Rook works as a serious journalist.  In so doing, Castle imagines what pursuing such Nonfiction stories might entail.  While Jameson Rook might have won two Pulizer prizes, he also winds a dangerous and unglamorous path chasing arms smugglers around the globe.  In exchanging his playboy lifestyle for that of the investigative reporter, Castle envisions paying a steep price: Rook isn’t allowed to help Nikki in any official capacity, as he’s finished the magazine piece he wrote on her during the first novel.  Rook isn’t even present during the first sixty pages of the novel.  I won’t tell you what Rook’s up to, but it’s bound up with the fictional persona that Richard Castle has imagined himself becoming. 

And then there’s the ending, which I won’t spoil for you.  Let’s just say, if you watched Season Three, you’ll understand not only why Castle ends the novel this way, but also how it expresses his innermost desires.

I’ve never read any of the Derek Storm novels.  Come to think of it, I’ve never even seen them in the bookstore.  But I’ve been enjoying his Nikki Heat novels; the stories get better with each installment.  It’s hard to imagine why some can’t accept that he’s a real person.  I’ll admit that Richard Castle and Nathan Fillion share certain facial similarities.  As for the comparison with Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the starship Serenity, well, I’ve seen “Firefly,” and they seem like completely different people to me.  On our TV screens, Richard Castle demonstrates all the qualities that shine so brightly in his writing.  Could someone really ghostwrite his novels, mimic his individuality so perfectly, while crafting such an enjoyable series of novels?  Why should they, when he's so capable?

Others may refuse to believe in him, but I appreciate Richard Castle’s willingness to share his secret ambitions with us through his Fiction.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Nikki Heat novel.

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