Friday, July 5, 2019

The Golem of Hollywood

The Golem of Hollywood
by Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Jacob Lev is a sometime homicide detective who has burned out before his time, while also losing his faith in the religion of his rabbi father. His mother went insane before she died, and now he wonders if he is starting to lose his mind, too. Ever since he had what must have been a night to remember with a disturbingly beautiful woman – if only he could remember! – every time he approaches intimacy with another woman, she recoils as if he is hurting her. A strange, flying beetle seems to be stalking him. He has been seconded to a mysterious branch of the police department, against his will, to investigate a bizarre if not impossible murder. The victim himself seems to have been a monster with a trail of victims behind him – or rather, them, as Lev gradually comes to realize this particular serial killer is part of a traveling team. His, or their, MO is particularly disturbing. But who killed the killer? His partner, perhaps? Or could it be (don't pretend the title didn't give it away) something out of medieval Jewish folklore, something created to protect the denizens of the Jewish ghetto in Prague, now somehow free to move about the planet?

OK, you'll have seen that twist coming since you turned the title page. Those of us who have read, say, Bari Wood's The Tribe may go into this book expecting something like it – a creature made of clay, created to avenge a wrong suffered by an Orthodox Jewish community in Big City U.S.A. and now gone on the rampage – an ultra-violent novel of erotic horror with a slivovitz chaser. What those of us won't expect is what this novel actually is: a penetrating exploration into the heart of a deeply confused and depressed young man; a disturbing, speculative spin on the biblical account of Cain and Abel; a heartbreaking tale of love and grief that spans millennia; scenes that will batter you emotionally, chill your insides with anxiety, and leave your mind reeling with shock; a final twist that might be just a bit too far over the top, if you think about it. And you'll think about it. Trust me.

Jacob Lev is a more flawed and vulnerable hero than one is used to seeing in books issued by the Kellermans – though I feel a little silly saying that, after reading a Decker/Lazarus novel which will soon prompt me to say something similar about Peter Decker. He's practically a danger to himself, in a way that somehow makes you feel protective of him. I suppose I should accept it as a sign that I've gone over the hill: I feel a bit fatherly toward him. I sympathize with his old man, up to a point. But do I really buy the trick the old man proves, in the end, to have played on him? Not really. Nevertheless, I'm interested in seeing where this business takes Jacob next – especially given good reason to expect it to be narrated in striking, lyric prose, full of vivid atmosphere and beautiful, terrible imagery.

This book is the first of (at present) two Jacob Lev novels by the father-son writing team that has also produced (so far) two Clay Edison novels and a third on its way. The sequel is titled The Golem of Paris.

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