You better pay attention, because this might get confusing: You may or may not already know that the comic drama murder/mystery TV series Castle on ABC is going into its sixth or seventh season. Castle the TV show is about a very popular mystery writer named Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) who is running dry on ideas teaming up with NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), helping her solve crimes as well as using her for his muse. It works, and Castle is able to cook up a slew of new novels starring a Detective named Nikki Heat, who gets him atop the bestseller lists once more. Along the way, Castle and Beckett fall in love.
So this character, Richard Castle, is entirely fictional. Starting in 2009, though, ABC began creating a very cool tie-in promo for the TV series when the first Nikki Heat novel, Heat Wave, was released in the real world with Richard Castle's name on it. It was promptly followed with the other Nikki Heat novels: Naked Heat, Heat Rises, and Frozen Heat. ABC is fully invested in the promotion: No one knows who's really writing the "Richard Castle" novels. The book sleeves and photos feature pictures of Nathan Fillion, and whenever there's a signing, it's Fillion who shows; however, Fillion does the signings as himself, not Richard Castle. ABC refuses to give up the identity; the best they'll give us is that the author is Richard Castle. But they've been dropping occasional hints, up to and including that the real author has done some writing for Castle, and has appeared on the show.
Being a fan of the series and having been a mystery/crime/thriller reader since high school, I gave the Nikki Heat novels a try, but they were boring me to tears after a couple of chapters. In the meantime, ABC is apparently trying to fill out "Richard Castle's" authorship background. Not only are the Nikki Heat novels coming at a regular pace, but in the show's universe, Castle's first blockbuster character was a super secret agent in the vein of James Bond named Derrick Storm. In one episode, with Castle facing the prospect of throwing his daughter through college, Castle said it was time to bring back Derrick Storm, having killed him off in the show's pilot episode. (Even telling his Detective friends, in that charming Rick Castle way of his, that was his sole motivation.) And so, in 2013, what should appear in the real world? Storm Front, a Derrick Storm novel.
The way the sleeve is written, it seems pretty clear that Storm Front is the grand comeback the in-universe Castle was telling Ryan and Esposito about. After reading it, I can say it's written in exactly the way one would expect a novel written by in-universe Richard Castle to be written. The TV quirks and nuances of Richard Castle are all over Storm Front, from the end line of a nun telling Storm he's "ruggedly handsome" (one of the show's most popular in-jokes) to quick cameos from Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook to a pilot named Montgomery. There's some very joyful winking at the audience, but much to my delight, there's also a very substantial action-driven story in Storm Front as well.
The plot revolves around a handful of bankers who are being whacked in systematic fashion by some dude with an eyepatch who yanks their fingernails out before killing them. Storm nails this as the return of his longtime nemesis, Gregor Volkov, who I guess was also supposed to be dead. We're not given any explanations as to why Storm and Volkov came back, aside from the in-universe reason Castle gave. It's difficult to describe the Storm/Volkov relationship as cat and mouse, because Volkov, despite being the instigator, doesn't do a whole lot except oversee his whole operation. Anyway, Storm steps out, returns to life for the first time in four years, teams up with an Asian operative named Ling Xi Bang, and uncovers a plot to unravel the world economy.
When I refer to Derrick Storm as an American James Bond, I mean it. Hell, the author himself throws in a reference or two. The name of Ling Xi Bang is pronounced "she bang," a name which would fit right into a James Bond movie. He also drives a trademark car. Storm is a little bit more developed than Bond, though; or rather, the movie version of James Bond, whose entire existence is centered around who he is and what he does in the here and now that no one would ever notice if the character was suddenly retconned. We get to meet Derrick Storm's father, Carl, a retired FBI agent who still has his old job instincts and gives his son advice. He also passed on to Derrick a respect for American made vehicles, and so while Derrick is willing to admit to himself that his auto manufacturer of choice - Ford - is pedestrian, it's also very reliable.
There's a real feeling that Storm Front was written with the author's tongue tacked firmly inside of his cheek, because the writing style in Storm Front makes some biting colloquialisms. It's far from bare-boned, but it's still very breezy and fast.
It's hard not to criticize some of the twists the story takes, though. Early on in the book, Derrick Storm meets Ling Xi Bang by a good stroke of fortune, and it appears that his stumbling into the plot after Ling takes him to see her computer whiz was a sort of way for the author to avoid any major plot complications. The ending felt a little bit forceful as well.
There's still a very clever thriller in Storm Front with a prevailing sense of fun, though. You can tell the author was having fun writing Storm Front, and there's camp value everywhere in it - from the idea of characters returning from the dead, to the tongue-in-cheek action scenes which come off almost like spoofs at times, to the names of the characters themselves. Check out this list of characters: Derrick Storm, Clara Strike, Graham Whitely Cracker V - we're even provided with the backstory of his name! - Rodney Click, Theodore Sniff…. Yeah, you don't write up a cast of characters like that if you're trying to be taken seriously, even if it's just within a single genre which is widely disregarded as trash by the literati.
TV tie-ins don't necessarily have to be bad. If you enjoy thrillers with a sense of fun and adventure, Storm Front is definitely worth a read.
OK... back to guilty pleasure reading that really shouldn't be as good as they are. I picked up the latest "Richard Castle" novel at the library... Storm Front. As you probably know, Castle is the character played by Nathan Fillion on the TV series of the same name. He plays a writer who is "helping" the NYPD and specifically detective Kate Beckett. His real-life novels maintain the illusion that Castle is real, complete with Fillion's picture on the back cover. The Derrick … more