The Golem of Paris; Rule of Capture
The Golem of Parisby Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 512 pp. $27.95)
In their first joint effort, The Golem of Hollywood, writers Jonathan Kellerman and his son Jesse Kellerman created a captivating if weird hybrid genre of Jewish mythology, murder mystery, family secrets and strange love.
The authors’ second collaboration, The Golem of Paris, continues the spooky, sometimes ghastly tale, revealing hidden secrets and history—and drawing Los Angeles Detective Jacob Lev into an investigation of three terrible crimes.
Moving between past and present, the multilayered plot begins at a psychiatric hospital in 1982 Prague in the Czech Socialist Republic and the bizarre murders of a woman and her young son; two contemporary murders in Los Angeles and Paris fit the same modus operandi: Did the same murderer commit all three crimes—so distant from each in place and time?
Readers of The Golem of Hollywood will recognize the unearthly creatures, angel-human hybrids that populate the story; they are found in various law enforcement agencies (i.e. Special Projects). Their goal: to capture the golem and put her/it back in the clay jar. The golem, “a creature of no fixed shape,” was originally created in Prague. She has been drawn to Lev over centuries—which explains why the Special Projects’ goons maintain a constant surveillance on Lev’s apartment in case Mai (as she is called when she appears in her female shape) shows up.
Lev had been relegated to work in a decrepit archive—“a repository for schmucks”—reading over cold cases, one of which is the mother-son murders in Los Angeles. As he pursues that crime, he learns of the identical one in Paris.
Along the way, Lev makes earth-shattering discoveries—about his mother, Bina, a gifted ceramicist he thought was dead; about himself and his own capacity for “reading” others; and about his father, a Talmudist whose “complex logic” he is just starting to appreciate.
The most interesting angle (when you get past the confusion of moving back and forth in time and separating who is human and who is not, who is the devil and who is an angel) is the character of the women of the Lev/Loewe line: it is they who made independent decisions that released female power into a world filled with evil.
That is actually the most enlightened aspect of this book.
Rule of Capture: An Historical Mystery by Ona Russell. (Sunstone Press, 339 pp. $24.95)
The protagonist-heroine of Rule of Capture is a gutsy Jewish woman whose company most of us would likely enjoy. The year is 1928 and the unmarried 39-year-old Sarah Kaufman has flown from Toledo, Ohio, where she is a probate officer, to Los Angeles to observe a criminal trial and attend a work-related conference. As a victim of oil stock fraud, Sarah is angry and wants to see justice done. That the friend who persuaded her to invest is also Jewish, as are several other men on trial—giving rise to anti-Semitic reviews of their behavior by other court observers—also upsets her.
Sarah is comfortable in her Jewish shoes and values, visiting Sinai Temple, where she heard a sermon on tikkun olam, and sharing a Shabbat meal with a Jewish family she has just met.
The trial, meanwhile, turns into a slog, but Sarah’s attention is grabbed by the death of a well-dressed Chicano woman she had met outside the courtroom who said she recognized her (from a stock offering reception in 1922) and who appeared frightened. Although the police maintain she died of a heart attack, the bruises around Rita’s neck make Sarah think she was murdered. When a second young woman is found dead by strangulation in the same Chicano neighborhood, Sarah is convinced there is a serial killer in Los Angeles.
Sarah is not one to let a wrong slide: She is a feminist ahead of her time—even investing in Julian Petroleum’s oil wells, which she was told is something ladies don’t do. She steps out of her comfort zone by pursuing justice for Rita and having an affair with Carlos, an enlightened Chicano entrepreneur, who accompanies her to wild-and woolly Tijuana to find Rita’s husband.
Yet all is not as it seems and Sarah is betrayed on a number of fronts. Carlos knows the discrimination and tragedies not only in his own community but also in Jewish history. He is involved in setting up a union for Mexican agricultural workers. But is there a hidden side to Carlos? Could he have also murdered the two women, both of whom he also knew intimately?
The author has done her historical research: It is an era of sharply bifurcated neighborhoods—divided between Mexican, Jewish, black and Russian and Japanese. Beverly Hills doesn’t allow Mexicans, Negroes or Jews to live there. There are pawn shops, ice cream parlors, a theater showing the movie The Mysterious Lady with Greta Garbo. Actress Pola Negri is sighted walking her cheetah, Sarah visits the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, popcorn is a nickel a bag and snickerdoodles are the new snack.
The title Rule of Capture means that whoever discovers a resource first owns it. That is not only the idea that runs through the book, it is also a clue.