So far, I've left out tie-in novels, treating them more as merchandising more than an adaptation. Probably an unfair assessment, but it does cut out a large number of reviews as quality can vary author by author. This time around, though, I will look at a series of tie-in novels.
In 2009, ABC first aired Castle, a police procedural/murder mystery series starring Nathan Filion as the titular mystery writer who managed to cajole a ride-along with a New York City homicide detective. What could have been just yet another police procedural lasted several seasons because of the chemistry and abilities of the lead actors Filion and Stana Katic. The show is one part Moonlighting, one part Murder She Wrote and one part Law & Order.
Naturally, whenever a show becomes popular, the studio tries to make the most of it. Most shows wind up with a variety of merchandise, from backpacks and shirts with logos to action figures. However, with mysteries attracting a literary crowd and the geek factor inherent in Nathan Filion, ABC went meta.
Instead of releasing a series of novels using the characters from the show, ABC hired a ghost writer to work under the penname Richard Castle to write the books that the character Castle was researching with the homocide unit in the show. To get things truly twisted, Castle has a self-insert character, Jonathon Rook, who is a writer who had spent time with the main character, Nikki Heat who is based off Katic's character Kate Beckett, to research a story for a magazine. So, we have a fictional author writing a real book based loosely on the fictional homocide unit in the show and writing himself into the story.*
Yet, anyone who follows the show can recognize the different characters and acknowledge the differences because it's a Nikki Heat novel, not a Castle tie-in novel. At the same time, anyone unfamiliar with the series doesn't have to worry about not getting the metacharacters and can enjoy the story on its own merits, a light read that is still filled with plot twists that keeps the reader guessing whodunit until the reveal.
So, how successful is the book, in terms of an adaptation? On one hand, technically, it's not a Castle tie-in novel. It uses a fictional fictional character** created in-universe. Characters line up but aren't one-to-one matches. At the same time, the meta levels of the characters from the show shine through, leaving no doubt about which character is which. The humour of the series comes through, even when dealing with murder. And, it's a fun read. The author (the real one, not the guy on the back cover, unless Filion is the real one***) had a deft touch while writing, making sure that the characters from the series were seen through the character Castle's eyes. It looks like the writer took the time to get to know the characters in the show and applied that knowledge, and, as seen many times in this column, that seems to be the key element into making a successful adaptation.
Next time, something far less meta.
* And this doesn't even include the author's bio on the back page, complete with photo.
** Math-wise, it'd look like "fictional (fictional character)" if that helps parsing.
*** Which would start creating a meta-black hole.