The Golem of Hollywood
One of the many things I enjoy about anticipating something is having my expectations met and exceeded. It doesn’t always happen --- expectations are sometimes unrealistic --- but when it does, there is nothing quite like it.
I had very high and, yes, unrealistic expectations for THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman. Jonathan has carved out a remarkable niche in detective fiction with a somewhat unlikely forensic psychologist who frequently consults with the LAPD in the form of Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. The books in the series, taken together, form as fine a contemporary picture of Los Angeles as one is likely to encounter. Jesse, Jonathan’s son, defies easy categorization, having published a series of stand-alone novels that blur popular genre lines while retaining a literary sensibility that stays with the reader long after each book is done.
"THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD transcends genre. It’s a whole that exceeds the sum of its very considerable parts, creative and otherwise. It’s a religious tale that doubters and non-believers will love, a mystery that literary snobs will appreciate, and a story so wonderfully told that your bookshelf must have it."
So what does a father-and-son collaboration look like in this particular instance? It look like THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD, a hard-boiled police procedural novel set in contemporary Los Angeles but that has its roots in the beginning of all that is, and its solution (at least in part) is an event in the Middle Ages that, in turn, is an element of the lore of the world’s oldest religion. Yes, really. Along the way, the Kellermans met my expectations and blew the roof off of them.
The book begins with an enigmatic but fascinating prologue set in Prague that is worth the price of admission all by itself, in part by immediately creating a scenario and a character that appears to be ready to take the reader through the book and then...changing things a bit. The reader barely stops reeling from what has occurred before the main story (or at least part of it) gets rolling. Jacob Lev is an underachieving member of the LAPD, drummed down to traffic patrol duty from the detective bureau due to a combination of lack of initiative and a very strong attachment to alcohol. Lev is suddenly recruited by a mysterious and secretive division of the LAPD, which is somewhat unimaginatively titled “Special Projects.” The impetus for this change in fortune is an extremely grisly and somewhat mysterious discovery in an isolated home in the L.A. hills. The discovery, which includes a head missing a body, is accompanied by the Yiddish word for “justice” burned into a countertop.
As Lev has an extensive knowledge of all things involving Judaism --- his father is a reclusive and knowledgeable, if little-known, scholar --- it is thought that he can provide some insight into the case. When the head is tied to a notorious and very cold case, things take an even more interesting turn, but creates more questions. Who called the police and directed them to the house? Why did the countertop carving suddenly disappear? And why is Lev encountering mysterious bugs seemingly everywhere he goes?
Meanwhile, the narrative involving Lev’s investigation is interspersed with a dark retelling of the story of Cain and Abel, and its aftermath. We have all heard this story, at one point or another, but not in the manner in which the Kellermans tell it. Of course, there is the question as to what in the name of heaven do Cain and Abel have to do with Lev’s investigation. You won’t be able to read fast enough to find out as you learn more about Los Angeles, the Bible, the Golem, and a host of other things than you might ever have imagined.
THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD transcends genre. It’s a whole that exceeds the sum of its very considerable parts, creative and otherwise. It’s a religious tale that doubters and non-believers will love, a mystery that literary snobs will appreciate, and a story so wonderfully told that your bookshelf must have it. Once you finish reading it, of course.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 19, 2014