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. But 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 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 the 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 world of secrets, cover-ups, and scandals.
Naked Heat is the second Nikki Heat novel. Much of what I said about Heat Wave can also be said about Naked Heat. It is still like watching an alternate reality Castle in your head. Because of this, the story still very much tied to the Castle TV show. Some of the research we see Castle do in the show, mainly the tied-to-the-chair experiment, makes an appearance in the book. This leads to several ‘Aha!’-moments, where you’ll recognise stuff from the second season of Castle in the book. At the same time, funnily enough, I noticed stuff in the book I’d missed in the series. Such as Lanie and Esposito, Lauren and Ochoa in the books, hooking up! So reading the books and watching the show can act in a complementary manner.
The writing is much improved from Heat Wave; where in the last book the prose was workman-like, it’s much better here, though still not soaring, and the story flows much better. Partly, this is due to the fact that in Naked Heat we’re not limited to Nikki’s point of view. We witness scenes from Rook’s point of view and go on ride-alongs with Raley and Ochoa when they go interview a relative of one of the victims in Spanish Harlem. I liked these switches a lot and, especially in the case of Roach, it means that there are less infodumpy updates where they have to inform Nikki – and the reader – of their progress on the case. Now the reader looks over their shoulder and they presumably update Nikki off-stage. This makes for a lot less stopping to explain the clues and where we’re going next. Of course, this being the second book in the series, there’s no need to introduces any of the main cast and that also helps with the flow of the book, we can get right to the action.
Naked Heat‘s plot was also much to my liking. With the murdered woman being as much a villain as a victim and, due to her profession, the necessary delving into sordid ‘celeb’ secrets and the world of gossip that Cassidy Towne inhabited, it added a little scandal to this otherwise straight police procedural. The public’s fascination with gossip and the latest ’15 minutes of fame’-celebrity is also echoed in the way Nikki and Rook have to deal with the aftermath of his article. Nikki’s is recognised everywhere—when she rolls up to the book’s first crime scene, the witness who discovered the body is more interested in having his picture taken with her than in giving a testimony. In addition, due to Rook’s focus on Nikki in his article, the rest of the squad is somewhat ticked off at him as well, rightly feeling as if they didn’t the credit they deserve. Raley, especially, is angry since Rook revived his old nickname of Sweet Tea, much to Raley’s disgust. Rook spends a large part of the novel figuring out what went wrong, between him and Nikki and him and the squad. It’s interesting to see Rook realising his mistakes and trying to make up for them.
In all, Naked Heat is another fun read, which might even be attractive to the more hardcore crime reader. I’m even tempted to pick up Heat Rises when it comes out, just to see how this series progresses and whether the upward momentum will hold. If you’re headed off to the beach, this is a good book to bring along!