Even though I read this novel from the first to the final of its 549 pages, I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience or felt any real sense of purpose in an exhausting foray between reality and religious mythology. Densely layered with the weight of Judaic ritual and ancient beliefs, there is no attempt to clarify the chasm between the search for a serial murderer and the myth of an avenging Golem, a mud creature who roamed the ghetto in Prague protecting inhabitants from harm.
The story begins with the search for a killer in Los Angeles, the scenario of death both bizarre and suggestive of forces shrouded in secrecy—including the Department of Special Projects, which assigns Detective Jacob Lev of the LAPD to an obscure homicide in Boyle Heights on the outskirts of the city. Formerly of Robbery-Homicide, he is more than happy to relinquish his current position in Traffic, his hopes of ever returning to Robbery-Homicide virtually nil. In his new assignment, Lev is supplied with every cutting-edge technical device he will need, from pre-programmed sat phone to computer. His contacts are two burly detectives, Paul Schott and Mel Subach, under the directives of Commander Mike Mallick.
It is made abundantly clear to Jacob that his religious identification is vital to the investigation. Though not actively practicing religious observances, Jacob has been steeped in the ancient texts of his parents’ beliefs since childhood. More importantly, his relationship with his scholarly father, Sam, becomes an important connection between what Jacob learns during the course of his investigation and his reconciliation with the facts of his life when the case is finished. Other unresolved issues—and explanations—are left to the imagination.
Beyond the murder case, with only the severed head of the victim remaining at the scene along with the Hebrew word for “justice” (tzedek) etched into a kitchen countertop, the authors (Kellerman father and son) insert chapters begun in the Biblical era of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and their loss of paradise, a parallel universe that starts with the fraternal slaying and progresses to the incarnation and evolution of the mythical Golem of Hebrew lore. Lev travels from L.A. to Prague and back in the pursuit of information. Eventually the connection between these disparate elements becomes clear, if never meant to be rationally understood, a matter of belief beyond the human ability to comprehend.
Though Jacob Lev goes to Prague and to England on his quest to identify the killer he seeks, that pursuit extends beyond the knowable, in the realm of the nature of evil and the monsters it begets. The deeds and human forms of such beings are an acknowledgment of the treacheries embraced on the human plane of existence, a greater mind at work behind the scenes allowing choices, self-destructive impulses, and the usual myriad flaws of those expelled from the Garden of Eden, the great hubris of god’s creatures ordaining a future of struggles to regain what they have squandered. All of this, of course, is acted out in real time in the real world, where monsters wear the faces of men and serpents hide their venom behind the façade of civility.
Whether flirting with the supernatural—inserting horror where necessary for effect—or contemplating the power of religious beliefs in one man’s struggle (one that includes a demon-lover that mates for life), the Kellermans’ long work of fiction is sometimes compelling, more often grueling, overworked and tedious, more than I bargained for and less than I expected after such an investment of time.