I’ve had this one on the to-be-read pile long enough, and decided to give it a go this week. I wasn’t disappointed. From Mike Mignola – creator of Hellboy – and Christopher Golden – prolific novelist – comes Joe Golem, Occult Detective.
In 1865’s lower Manhattan, forty years after the earthquakes flooded the city and left half of it under water, children are disappearing along the canals. No one seems interested in finding out what’s going on in the drowning city until private detective Simon Church reads about the disappearances in the newspaper. He suggests that his protégé – or perhaps Joe’s his partner? – look into it. Joe doesn’t like being told what to do. He either takes a case or he doesn’t, but he likes to make that decision himself and not be ordered around.
Joe hasn’t been in a good mood recently, due mostly to a lack of sleep. Nightmares plague his mind whenever he closes his eyes. Odd dreams of an ancient place where witches terrorize a small village, and a powerful golem has been created to defend the people from evil. Those dreams drain him, but Church has a special herbal tea that helps a little. Just a little.
Whatever he says about making his own decisions, Joe still takes the case. His investigation leads him deep into the drowning city, to an orphanage where many children have gone missing. But in order to find those children, he’ll have to go even deeper, down past the surface and into the murky water below…
Mignola has a fantastic ability to spin a suspenseful yarn. Paired here with Christopher Golden, they’ve created something truly fantastic in Joe Golem. The art by Patric Reynolds really helps convey the creep factor.
I like the conflict in the character. He wants to be independent of his mentor, Church; he says it multiple times, stressing he is not a sidekick, and yet does everything the man asks of him without hesitation. Once on task, he has a singular purpose and follows it through no matter what. He and Church talk about the supernatural threats they’ve faced, hinting at both backstory and things to come. Church is an interesting character in his own right, and we get little hints as to who he might truly be as well. A third character introduced is Lori Noonan, who works with – and possibly cares for – the orphan children being preyed upon. She and Joe hit it off, and she comes back in the second part of the book only to clash with Church, who makes it very clear how much he doesn’t like Joe being involved with her. That dynamic is an interesting one, and I hope it grows in subsequent volumes and we get to see more of Lori as she awakens to the supernatural world Joe walks in.
We get only the barest hint of worldbuilding in the first of the two stories in this book – The Rat Catcher. But it’s enough to set the stage and guide us in slowly, and they build up it – and Joe’s dreams / the past – in the second story, The Sunken Dead.
I grabbed the hardcover edition of Joe Golem, Occult Detective, and it includes both of the stories mentioned above, plus a sketchbook with detailed notes about the character designs. This is definitely a pulp thriller supernatural horror type story, and will satisfy those areas if you’re looking for such a book right now.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and two-time Hugo Award Winner. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed - @atfmb. His novel, SAMANTHA KANE: INTO THE FIRE is available at all major retailers. His short fiction can be found in the anthologies Space Battles: Full-Throttle Space Tales #6 andAn Uncommon Collection, as well as the eBooks Conversations with my Cat, Witchcraft & Satyrs, Consumption, Cahill's Homecoming and Cahill's Unfinished Business. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for multiple Parsec and Hugo Awards.