The father-son duo of Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman have created a monster.
Writing together for the first time to produce last year’s The Golem of Hollywood, the Kellermans inserted a menacing golem into an otherwise conventional detective novel, producing a bestseller that defies easy categorization.
Now they’re back with the genre-defying follow-up. In The Golem of Paris, hard-drinking LAPD Detective Jacob Lev investigates the murders of a mother and son. The hideous cold case leads him to Paris and the scene of a similarly staged mother-child slaying.
Meanwhile, thanks to a parallel storyline involving Jacob’s mother and an adventure in 1982 that drove her to the brink of madness, readers learn more about Lev’s unique family history and his connection to a mercurial and dangerous creature from Jewish folklore.
In theory, these disparate elements shouldn’t go together. But the Kellermans have smeared paranormal peanut butter onto crime-story chocolate and come up with a tasty treat.
One piece of advice: Before starting The Golem of Paris, we recommend you read the first book. It will make the new one easier to digest.
We chatted with Jonathan, who’s best known for his bestselling series of Alex Delaware crime thrillers, and Jesse, author of five stand-alone thrillers, about collaborating on this peculiar paranormal crime saga.
What made you think of mixing mean-streets-of-L.A. crime fiction with the 16th-century creature known as the Golem of Prague?
Jonathan: It started when my wife and I went on a trip to Prague and I became impressed with the pervasiveness of the golem theme in that city. (The story celebrated there is of Rabbi Judah Loew creating a golem out of clay to protect the Jews of Prague from an anti-Semitic massacre.)
Being Jewish, I was familiar with the myth. But it was fascinating to see how big a part of the culture it was there. That’s when the thought struck me: Wouldn’t it be cool to introduce that story into a crime novel and come up with something that hadn’t been done before?
Jesse: The theme of the golem is a great fit for a contemporary crime novel. The story is about justice and protecting the weak. As a cop, Jacob is a protector. So he and the golem are kindred spirits.
Why did you choose this as the series to work on as a team?
Jonathan: I actually began the book, but I had two other books that I was working on, so I was overwhelmed and put it aside. When Jesse came to visit with his wife and son for Thanksgiving, I was talking about it and he had a lot of enthusiasm about it. He was already an accomplished bestseller in his own right. So I said, “Hey, do you want to do it?”
We did the first one and the publisher asked for the second one. We’re also contracted for two additional books. One is the third Golem book (The Golem of Shanghai). The other is a non-supernatural police-procedural crime thriller set in California.
Jesse: And we still have our own projects that we’re doing on an individual basis.
How does the writing process work? Are you in the same room, one typing as the other paces the floor? Or do you trade off, one of you writing one chapter, the other writing the next?
Jesse: The planning and plotting are done in tandem. We sit down and plot things out in great detail before beginning. We outline these novels more extensively than we would our individual novels.
Jonathan: The outline for The Golem of Paris was 150 pages long.
Jesse: When you’re writing on your own, a lot of it can stay in your head. But when you’re collaborating, you had both better be explicit about what you have in mind.
In terms of the actual writing, only one of us is working on a given section at a time. But then it immediately goes to the other person. So the manuscript is constantly passed back and forth and there’s no real ownership of any individual parts.
Jonathan: You don’t have to be in the same room to work well together. Several years ago, I wrote a couple of books with my wife, Faye, who is also a bestselling crime novelist. We live in the same house and our offices are maybe 100 feet apart. But we had no face-to-face meetings on those books. We did everything by email, a system that contributed to warmer nights.
Do you think it is important for readers to start with the other book?
Jesse: This is a true series in that this book follows directly on the events of the first one. So I would say that reading the first one will enrich your experience of reading the second one, but it’s not necessary. We wrote with an eye to making it accessible for people who have not read the first one.
We hope that the story stands on its own and is compelling on its own. But if people choose to buy both books, I don’t think we would object to that.
The Golem of Paris
- By Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman
- G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27.95
- Audio: Penguin Audio, $45; narrated by actor John Rubinstein.