Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com
Olga has been reading Golem by P.D. Alleva
I had never read any of Alleva’s books before, but I love horror, and I always enjoy reading something a bit different for Christmas, and this novel fitted the bill perfectly.
The description gives a fair idea of what the novel is about, and it is difficult to say more without spoiling the many surprises and scares. The author has managed to combine elements of a variety of myths and legends that have been adapted and used as inspiration for quite a number of stories before. Apart from the Golem of the title (from Jewish folklore), there are also elements of Pygmalion (the Greek original myth), the myth of Pandora’s box, and also elements of occultism and demonology, but without any heavy reliance on standard religious tropes or discourses, especially as pertaining to organised religions. To those who wish to know more, I recommend reading the author’s note at the end, where he explains the genesis of this book, his influences (he does highlight Frankenstein, as well as other classics and more modern horror stories and authors), and also his research and how he incorporated it into the final novel. It provides a good insight into the author’s process of creation, into his thoughts and motivations, and I found it fascinating in its own right.
As is the case with most genres, there are many subgenres and subtypes of horror stories, and some readers prefer some story topics to others, but I must confess to finding novels and movies about demons and evil possession, like The Exorcist and The Omen, among the scariest. I don’t scare easily, but this story manages to tap into the darkness within, psychological issues, post-traumatic stress syndrome, the worst of human weaknesses and vices, corruption at the highest level, and all kinds of crimes, some pretty extreme. This is a book fairly explicit in its use of extreme violence, with detailed descriptions of torture and abuse, with all kinds of victims (including young children), so any readers worried about violence, abuse, or satanic themes, should avoid it. (There are some sex scenes, although these are far less explicit than the descriptions of violence, but no less disturbing in that particular context).
The narrative follows a detective’s investigation, although it is not a typical police procedural, far from it. As tends to happen sometimes, the story ends up investigating the brand-new detective, John Ashton, as much as the case he is involved in. And, although I cannot reveal much, there are plenty of things about him we discover through the book and not all straightforward. We also get to hear about the world of the high society of New York and the Hamptons after WWII and also the events and places of the era, including references to real buildings, to cases of corruption in the city of New York, and to matters such as McCarthyism; we visit a psychiatric unit of the time and learn about some of the treatments in use, and their devastating long-term effects.
The two main characters are John Ashton, a family man (his wife is pregnant when we meet him, and he is happy to have been promoted to detective), who has survived some terrible experiences, but is not unscathed. The other main protagonist, Alena, we meet in pretty special circumstances, but we get to hear her story in the first person, as she narrates it to the detective. She is fascinating, and although she appears to be an unreliable narrator to Ashton —as she would to any police officer trying to solve the case— we are aware that there are far too many things that challenge a standard rational explanation. Like John, she has experienced terrible loss, and she is neither all good nor evil. She is a victim of forces she does not understand, but she tries to do the right thing, despite the cost to her health and sanity. There are plenty of other characters as well, and Golem is the most important (and a pretty memorable one as well, with many sides to his personality), but I can’t talk about them without spoiling the story, so you will have to read it if you want to find out more.
The way the story is told is quite interesting, as it is divided into three parts and an epilogue, and there is a character introduced at the very beginning of the story, during Halloween in 1951, that makes brief appearances during the novel, but we don’t get to know how she fits into the story until very close to the end. The device worked well for me, and it kept the intrigue going without slowing down the main narrative. Readers get to meet John Ashton next, and we hear about his experiences and events in the third person, although from his point of view, even down to his dreams and his pretty subjective impressions and intuitions. When he goes to talk to Alena, she gets to narrate her version of the story (written in the third person, although, as is the case with the rest of the novel, from her point of view and with direct access to her own thoughts and feelings), although not at first. She insists she will only talk to Ashton, and he (and the readers) get to hear her pretty incredible story, which requires a large degree of suspension of disbelief, but no more than would be expected from this genre. In fact, there is an interesting way of explaining what is behind the mysterious events and crimes, and not one I was familiar with, although some of the characters that make an appearance are well-known within the subgenre. Readers who worry about head-hopping can be reassured. Although the whole story is narrated in the third person, mostly from one of the main characters’ points of view, it is always clear whose point of view we are following. The story is also mostly told in chronological order (apart from Alena’s narration, which starts in 1947, although towards the end of the book we jump ten years into the future), and the pace quickens at the end, with alternating points of view that announce a pretty dramatic turn of events. (And yes, I can’t tell you anything else).
I have talked about the descriptions of violence and events that go beyond the realm of the rational, and the author does a great job with those, without overdoing the use of bizarre or complex language, but can be typical in novels centred on those subjects, but here the choice of register fits the characters and is functional and not overwrought or heavy. At times I noticed the repetition of certain words, adjectives, and expressions, that became pretty noticeable, to the point of being slightly distracting, but the more I read, the more I wondered if it was a stylistic choice befitting the subject, with its reliance on rituals and ceremonies. It does not detract from the story, the plot, or the characters, which are the most memorable elements of this novel.
Having read all this, I’m sure you won’t expect me to be specific when talking about the ending. Yes, it is very fitting and it works well. Of course, it is not a happy ending (this is horror, after all), but considering how the story goes, I think it reaches a difficult equilibrium. And, as is my preference in this genre, it is not a closed and reassuring ending. Good work.
Would I recommend it? With the caveats mentioned above, I definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy horror and like new takes and twists on ancient myths and stories, and especially those who appreciate novels that dig into the psychological depths of the human mind. As usual, I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book before deciding if it would suit their taste, and, I leave you with the author’s own nutshell description and reflection on the book, as I think it might help you decide:
Golem is a story about isolation, paranoia, and division, and, as unfortunate as it is, reflects our current society in a nutshell. Who opened the front door and invited the devil in? Well, we all did, didn’t we?
Detective. Angel. Victim. Devil.
A haunting tale of suspense, loss, isolation, contempt, and fear.
On November 1, 1951, war hero John Ashton was promoted to detective. His first assignment: find the district attorney’s missing daughter. But his only lead is Alena Francon, a high society sculptor and socialite committed to Bellevue’s psychiatric facility.
Alena has a story for the new detective. A story so outlandish John Ashton refuses to heed the warning. Alena admits to incarnating Golem, a demonic force, into her statue. A devil so profound he’s infiltrated every part of New York’s infrastructure. Even worse, he uses children to serve as bodily hosts for his demonic army, unleashing a horde of devils into our world.
When Alena’s confidant, Annette Flemming, confirms the existence of Golem, John is sent on a collision course where fate and destiny spiral into peril, and the future of the human race hangs in the balance.
The Devil Is In The Details!