The Golem of Hollywood
By Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman
Have you ever had your entire experience of a book ruined by the ending?
This is one of those books.
I'm a strong fan of Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series. Kellerman plus golems? What could possibly go wrong?
I'm glad you asked.
First, however, I’ll give objectivity--or at least more measured subjectivity-- a try. The Golem of Hollywood is a bizarre pairing of two narratives: that of Jacob Lev, a burned-out, alcoholic, Hollywood detective, and Asham, the sister of Cain and Abel. (Yes, that Cain and Abel.)
Jacob Lev isn’t faring well. Dealing with the repercussions of his mother’s bipolar disorder caused Jacob to lose his faith, which has not made things any less tense with his rabbi father. He gave up all hope of academic success when he dropped out of Harvard after his mother’s suicide to care for his vision-impaired father. Now a policeman, Jacob has been downgraded from homicide to traffic. And now the beautiful woman that he managed to pick up at a bar has walked out on him. But when he is brought in on a case for “Special Projects,” things begin to take a peculiar turn. Jacob is told to investigate a murder in which the victim’s head seems to have been squeezed off the body. Stranger still, the only clue is the Hebrew word for "justice" burnt into the wood near the man’s head. When mysterious women, cryptic clues, and strange bugs start appearing everywhere, Jacob is left wondering whether he’s beginning to lose his vision, his mind, or both.
Asham’s sections are interpolated throughout the book. When the story starts, Asham is forced to choose which brother to marry. Told in third person present, it is a bizarre, nonsensical, anachronistic retelling of some familiar stories, but not necessarily in a bad way. In fact, it reminded me a bit of a midrash, as I think was the intent. I never really understood the basic morality within midrashim, either.(show spoiler)
How are the narratives intertwined? Well, due to an extremely unsubtle prologue, you’ll figure it out early enough to be dead bored with the eventual “solution.”
The book is definitely interesting, and I enjoyed the way in which various Jewish beliefs and stories were woven into the story. One of the most fascinating tales that the story touches upon is that of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the supposed creator of the golem. The language games, too, were intriguing; for example, it is rather fitting that “justice” and “charity” not only share a root in Hebrew, but “charity” is the feminized form of the word.
At the same time, the plot itself is something of a mess. Dual narratives are never easy, and balancing a hardboiled police procedural with an utterly fanciful and unbiblical retelling of Genesis is not an easy task. Because the reader is privy to more information that Jacob receives, the situation becomes clear to the reader while Jacob is still flailing about blindly. Some plot threads left dangling while others are tied up in the most artificial way possible. There are also a lot of twisted sexual elements, starting with the whole “incest between Asham and her brothers” bit and moving on from there.
The ending is--and I’m sorry, but the language really is necessary to fully convey my emotions--seriously fucked up.(show spoiler)
I’ve actually read both Jesse and Jonathan Kellerman. While I’m a fan of the latter, I only barely pushed my way through one of the former’s books. Maybe it’s my bias speaking, but the weird, illogical, twisted elements here reminded me more of Jesse than Jonathan. Honestly, if you’re a fan of Jonathan Kellerman but not Jesse, I’d strongly recommend giving this one a miss.