Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Golem of Paris

The Golem of Paris
by Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 15+

At the end of the first Jacob Lev novel, a secret was revealed that was so preposterous – I mean, the fact that Jacob’s father had kept it from him – that it left an unpleasant aftertaste in a book that already asked us to suspend a lot of disbelief. Basically, the story squeezed an emotionally fragile LAPD detective between a hunt for a serial killer and a hush-hush organization’s quest to recapture the golem of Prague. Gradually, it becomes apparent that the victims of the bizarre crimes were themselves perpetrators of horrible deeds, done over a wide range of years and in cities all over the world, crimes no one ever connected together before Jacob. And the golem, who killed them, is sort of an avenging angel – only not an angel; rather, a clay monster who can shape-shift between a rare beetle and a beautiful woman and who, for some reason, has decided to be in an exclusive relationship with Jacob.

So. In this second novel, the surprise twist I had trouble swallowing at the end of Book 1 now rests uncomfortably in the gut. Jacob is still depressed, still drinks too much, still has trouble dealing with his father, and is still in career purgatory. The secretive group he sometimes works for, whether he wants to or not, are at least partly descended from angels, we learn. And the theme of connecting horrible crimes separated by many years and international boundaries continues to play in the background, with Jacob catching the scent of a killer who likes to pose the bodies of a mother-son pair so that they seem to be looking at each other.

Running parallel to Jacob’s present-day story is that of his mother, the former Barbara Reich, who rebelled against her atheist parents to become a religious Jew. Bina’s talent for ceramic arts – not to mention a nudge from some of those half-angel types – leads to her being interrogated by a brutal Russian scientist at a lunatic asylum in communist Czechoslovakia.

A lot of heavy consequences arise from this, affecting Jacob’s investigation in the present day – including the pursuit of a Russian billionaire in Paris. With angels breathing down one side of his neck and devils aiming their darts at the other, he pursues a disturbing line of inquiry through scenery that evokes dread and paranoia – not what one usually associates with France.

This novel conveys a powerful sensory and emotional load – most of it very, very dark. It’s got a good handle on the imagery, not to mention the taste and texture, of unremitting sadness in all its variations. It also bears eloquent witness to the horrors done in the name of Communism in the Brezhnev era. Betrayal and faithful love are presented as having about the same potential to inflict personal damage. And ancient mysteries are depicted in a way that seems to dim the light of modernity as it shines on them. It’s a unique effect – not what one would call fun to read, yet at the same time impossible to put down.

This is the second Jacob Lev novel by the father-son writing team who also co-wrote two (going on three) Clay Edison mysteries. The previous installment was The Golem of Hollywood. At the risk of repeating myself, Jonathan is the author of the long-running Dr. Alex Delaware series, while Jesse has also written the novels Sunstroke, Trouble, The Genius, The Executor and Potboiler.

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