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Monday, December 29, 2014


4 stars out of 5

This is a book I've had access to since shortly after it was released, but I kept moving it down a notch or two on my to-read list for several reasons. First, it exceeds 500 pages, and anything much over 400 - unless perhaps it's by Stephen King - is daunting enough that I tend to think twice before opening. Second, I'm a huge fan of the writings of Jonathan Kellerman and his wife, Faye; their son Jesse, not so much. And last but hardly least, the reviews for the most part are bloody awful (at the time of this writing, the average from 485 customers was a pitiful 2-1/2 stars).

Still, every time I saw the title lurking on my Kindle I said to myself, "self, one of these days, you really should give it a go." That day finally came a few days before Christmas, when - quite honestly - I wanted to start a book, but not one that was too engrossing to put down when all the greeting, cooking and gift-wrapping tasks of the holidays called my name. 

Well, guess what? At first blush - and half a dozen nonstop chapters later - I decided that maybe, just maybe, those naysayers got it wrong (love when that happens). As I approached the halfway point - now cursing the fact that holiday demands forced me to stop reading when I don't want to - I had reached the "What were they thinking" mindset when I recalled all those nasty reviews.

That said, I get the objections. This is nothing like the usual Kellerman fare (none of the three), even though it involves a Los Angeles detective who is the son of a rabbi. He's working a case, yes, but it quickly evolves into a thriller mixed with Jewish history and a heap of the supernatural. The chapters switch from the present and the detective's investigation to the land of Cain and Abel. While some have called that difficult, I didn't mind a bit. In the first place, it's easy to tell the "old" characters and settings from the new; in the latter, the present-day chapters are numbered while the former are names of people and places.

Moving in and out this way also is necessary for the progression of the story - and the resolution of everything as the ending nears. It's also important to understand the meaning of the title (yes, I looked it up before I started the book; I'd heard the term before, but I had no idea what it meant). A golem, according to several sources including the dictionary, comes from Jewish legend/Hebrew folklore and describes a clay figure that's endowed with life. Golems began as servants but later came to be thought of as protectors of the Jews in times of persecution.

One such legend is of the Golem of Prague, a creature fashioned in the 1500s by a rabbi who wanted to protect his congregation. The figure has lain dormant in an old synagogue since then - until now. And when Detective Jacob Lev begins his investigation of an unidentified head found in a remote house with the Hebrew word for justice burned into the kitchen counter, he sets off on the adventure of a lifetime - a lifetime that connects with his own in both satisfying and frightening ways.

Because of the mythical aspect, I certainly understand that this book won't be everyone's cup of tea. But now that I've finished it, I totally agree with Stephen King's assessment that it is a "rare collaboration where the sum is truly greater than the parts." I also agree with one reviewer who simply deemed it "weird." It's definitely out of the ordinary - but also, IMHO, well worth reading.

The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman (Putnam Adult, September 2014); 552 pp.

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