I'd never read an Edward Lee novel before picking this book up. I'd heard they were gory, and many of the review quotes on the cover of and inside this book used phrases like "hardcore horror". I was expecting extreme horror.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when this book wasn't an out-and-out gorefest, when it wasn't the loosely strung together sequence of gross-out horror violence I'd imagined. What it is, is a well-written, tightly plotted and entertaining, but decidedly mainstream, horror novel - with the kind of main plot you might imagine Stephen King producing.
Games designer and recovering alcoholic Seth Kohn and his ex-junkie girlfriend Judy Parker have moved to Lowensport, Maryland to start a new life away from the reminders of their former addiction riddled lives. Their plans, though, are not going to work out, as the town is the home of a dark cult based on a twisted form of Judaism - a cult that controls a zombie-like golem.
And, unfortunately for them, Seth and Judy are square in the cult's sights as soon after they arrive in town four barrels of clay from the old world (Prague to be specific) are discovered, one hundred years after they were lost in the early days of the town. The cult consider these barrels theirs, and they want them back so they can create more golems.
Seth and Judy are great creations. Lee has created two fully rounded lead characters that you just cannot help sympathising with. They are damaged goods, yes, but they are have got their lives back together and are trying to keep on the straight and narrow. And the author has then placed them in great danger, some supernatural, some through deliberate manipulation of their pasts by the locals. He's delivered the precise kind of seemingly hopeless situation that makes a good horror novel.
But this is not the only story going on in this book. Intermingled is the tale of the Lowensport of 1880, the time of the founding of the town and of the battles between the Jewish incomers and the Maryland natives. It's this two time period nature that is the book's only real drawback. Having two timelines running means you have to read a lot more of the book before anything really substantial happens.
It is a shame - for much as the 1880s tale is good, it pales in comparison to the modern plot strand. Seth and Judy's story is compelling. But every time it begins to build momentum the action switches back to 1880 - to a tale that you know will only have one possible outcome. The present day set up leaves it reasonably easy to guess what must have happened in the past.
But this is almost nit picking. This book has some good horror moments without overdoing the gore. It has a slightly different, and interesting, take on zombies. The Jewish connection is handled well - the author has managed to use an element of Jewish mythology and a Jewish cult as bad guys without vilifying the religion itself. Definitely worth a read!