I’m a fan of PD Alleva. If you’ve read my reviews of The Rose: Volume 1 and Volume 2, you may recall my love for these. Whereas those were stories set in a dystopian future where a post-World War III Earth deals with the threat of vampire aliens, Golem is a comparatively pared down horror about a golem, set in the mid-twentieth century. And as much as I love those aforementioned stories, I love Golem even more.
As I write this, it has been about twenty-four hours since I finished Golem, and it’s been with me ever since. This is a book that will linger with you after reading it, with its themes, visceral violence, physical and psychological horror lingering after the fact. It tells the story of a newly minted police detective, John Aston, investigating the disappearance of the District Attorney’s daughter whose trail leads him to Alena Francon, a psychiatric inmate who swears she knows the truth.
Throughout its 536 paperback pages (538 in hardcover; an estimated 429 pages in eBook), Golem is told in three parts: the first and third focusing on Detective Ashton’s investigations, and the second, which forms about two thirds of the novel, telling Alena’s story. This device works incredibly well, setting up the mystery in the first part, then exploring the horror in the second part, before bringing the story to its rousing conclusion in its third.
From the outset, Alleva writes Golem with an inviting tone, belying the dread that is to come. Through this, he expertly reels the reader in, building a mystery with unsettling undertones. As it enters the second part, the inviting tone continues, juxtaposing with the horror. This has an unsettling effect, drawing the reader into the world, building a sense of foreboding, and putting the reader in the centre of the horror. The horror works on a visual level, providing all the frights you would expect with the genre, but also works on a psychological level as the titular Golem plays his mind games with Alena and those around her, just as Alleva plays mind games with the reader.
Throughout, the prose intersperses long and winding sentences with short, sharp ones. The combination flows together beautifully, building the overall mystery and dread. The novel is fairly light on dialogue, with the prose doing the heavy lifting as it explores this world and the characters who inhabit it. As with Alleva’s other books I have reviewed, many of the paragraphs are long and detailed, requiring the reader to pay close attention rather than skim the pages. The book (not to mention its tagline and blurb) often tells the reader that “the devil is in the details,” and it rewards you for taking in those details.
As the devil is in the details, this is not a fast-paced story. Instead, it is slow, taking a deliberate pace to lay out all the grizzly details in front of the reader. Rather than focusing on jump scares, Alleva uses this pace to effectively and evocatively get inside the characters’ heads, as well as the readers’.
By virtue of the genre, Golem is not for the faint of heart. However, while you can expect plenty of violence, gore and scary imagery, Alleva takes it a step further, with subject matter certain readers may find unpalatable, regardless of the genre. This includes the deaths of children, miscarriages, and sexual assault, including references to paedophilia. The book provides a link to all the trigger warnings, and if you are concerned about these, you may wish to review the list here. The book’s violence and sex is explicit at points; however, at no point does any of this feel glorified; it is all deftly written to underscore the horror throughout.
Golem cleverly uses mythology to its advantage in building the story, with a particular emphasis on Jewish and Mayan mythologies. If you enjoy mythological stories, while the book plays with these in the background, rather than putting them in the forefront, you will no doubt enjoy their use. At the forefront, though, is inspiration taken from Pygmalion (and, as Alleva handily points out in the exhaustive—something I truly appreciate—author notes, for those who prefer Audrey Hepburn musicals, My Fair Lady), with the themes of creating somebody in your image. Throughout, I also found a number of parallels to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with Golem reminding me of the monster at points; however, I note Golem is far more manipulative.
Though Alleva takes inspiration from so many sources, I found his writing to most closely evoke Edgar Allan Poe, with a very similar knack for presenting a haunting world that lingers with the reader. If you’re a horror fan, or even if you enjoy the occasional horror story, I truly recommend Golem. My only reservation is for those of you who would find yourselves triggered by the subject matter, but if you are on the fence about those, I’ll reiterate that this isn’t glorified and serves the greater story. Golem is truly horrific, yet truly wonderful.
The sky above burned with fire. The ground piled high with skulls where those people puppets stood. Raging winds lifted death’s putrid scent. Annete breathed in, like ecstasy that drove pleasurable quivers raging in the veins. Her neck shivered. Fear, like a dense fog, surrounded Annette, and turned to ghosts with black eyes bearing sharp teeth, circling around her. There was comfort being with these ghosts, she opened her arms to them, welcoming all.Golem, Part III, “Annette Fleming, 40”, Chapter 48
Golem was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Golem is available in paperback, hardcover and eBook from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon.
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