The Golem of Hollywood - Jonathan Kellerman, Jesse Kellerman

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.

The whole narrative is like one giant anachronism. So apparently Cain managed to develop every invention and innovation that, in reality, it took thousands of years to develop? And everyone is already chill with that? And then there’s Asham’s reactions to things. She always thinks of her family and her world in terms of a larger, more sophisticated one, with well-worn traditions and customs. Where does the idea of “marriage” come from? How can she know anything about kids? She’s seen, what, one of them? How is she comfortable with the idea that there are other humans about in the first place, let alone her ability to recognize a city, a market, a tower, a slave..? The list goes on and on.

(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 most memorable case of the former, to my mind, is the “Mai won’t have sex with me” bit. Clearly there must be a physical reason rather than an emotional one. Obviously it’s because her remaker decided to stick her knot up her vagina. Why on earth would that occur to anyone as a convenient spot for such a thing? Oh, right. Plot convenience.


Everything relating to Mai is screwy. She makes it so Jacob’s penis is a weapon of death that makes women’s eyes roll up in the backs of their heads. She causes bugs to come out and bite every available aspect of them. That’s just weird. And seriously twisted. And utterly unnecessary for the book.

(show spoiler)



The ending is--and I’m sorry, but the language really is necessary to fully convey my emotions--seriously fucked up. 

We spend the whole book seeing Sam, Jacob's father, as an almost angelically patient, unselfish man, always willing to give, always ready to forgive.


So we’re supposed to be okay with the idea that Sam faked the death of his wife, to the point that he was able to get a death certificate, got a rabbi for the funeral, lied to all their friends, put up a fricking tombstone? And at the same time, somehow enrolled her in assisted living under an assumed name? What, precisely, is the assisted living using for documented medical history? Did he get it forged? And given he put her into a substandard slum home (which he did--the book is pretty clear on that), how is he paying for it all?


But even if we leave aside the (overwhelming) logistical issues, what kind of person does that? What kind of person fakes his wife’s death so that he can lock her up in a substandard nursing home? What kind of person lies to all of their friends, forcing them to deal with the grief and her to deal with the isolation? What kind of person lies to his son and leaves him for over a decade with the unbearable, unresolvable guilt, the creeping certainty that his neglect caused her death? What kind of person pulls a mentally fragile woman out of her home and forces her to leave behind literally every possession she ever owned? What kind of person, other than a textbook abuser, isolates his wife from everyone she ever knew so that he becomes her only link with her sense of self?

That kind of person doesn’t just fail to be “good.” That kind of person is basically a sociopath destined to burn in hell for all eternity. Or possibly longer.


And none of that meshes with the character of Sam that we see in the rest of the book.

Mind you, I don’t think the authors actually thought through any of this. I think they just wanted to slap on a happy-but-still-bittersweet twist, and completely failed to think through the ramifications.

I actually can’t imagine a more ridiculous, ill-fitting, wooden, and insensitive ending.

Congrats for that, I guess.

(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.