Book Review: 'Joe Golem and the Copper Girl' by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

"Joe Golem and the Copper Girl" represents one of the things I love about the ongoing digital publishing revolution – the way it has become possible to inexpensively sample new authors (or new work by familiar authors) without taking blind, pricey plunges into the unknown. 

To be fair, I've been sold on Joe Golem and the Drowning City since I first read a blurb about it months ago. I'm a big fan of co-creators Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden when they work separately, and I loved their previous collaboration, the illustrated novel Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, so bringing the two of them together again equals an instant buy from me. 

Of course, the marketing department at St. Martin's Press can't assume everyone is as easy a sell as me, and the book they've been tasked to push isn't the most mainstream selection available. "Copper Girl," as well as the novel it precedes, is set in an alternate 1970s version of Lower Manhattan, a version that's been partially submerged for nearly 50 years and is now home to a combination of thugs, charlatans, miscreants and magicians living side-by-side with those too stubborn to leave what's always been their home. Mignola and Golden are brewing up a unique mix of steampunk, supernatural and street noir elements that won't easily be compared to its shelf mates, providing a difficult challenge when it comes to getting the work in front of a mass audience.

Blurbs from other authors, cover images and advance reviews definitely have their place, but there's nothing that sways me more than a good, meaty sample of the story itself when it comes to deciding whether or not to buy a new book. Excerpts are wonderful in that regard, but here we have something better – a short story that introduces the characters and gives us the flavor of the upcoming book without spoiling a single page of it. For ninety-nine cents I got a story that was a satisfying read on its own and confirmed that the upcoming novel, Joe Golem and the Drowning City (due out March 27, 2012), is a book that belongs on my "buy-it-on-release-day" list.

"Joe Golem and the Copper Girl" opens with Golem, a sort of private detective in the employ of a mysterious man called Mr. Church, navigating the rough waters of the Drowning City in search of the Blum home. He's headed there at the behest of Rachael Blum, a woman who claims some sort of goblin is terrorizing her daughter Jillian. Jillian has been ill, but has made a miraculous recovery as of late that her mother isn't sure is entirely natural. Golem has agreed to stand watch at their house that night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious creature Rachael has described to him. What lies ahead is a strange evening of unexpected encounters and revelations that leaves both the stoic Joe Golem and Jillian's near-hysterical mother stunned.

Aside from providing an entertaining half-hour or so, the story serves as an excellent appetizer to the upcoming novel. It gives an intriguing glimpse into the world that Mignola and Golden are building, and at the complex and mysterious characters they're populating that world with. Mignola has already demonstrated a deft hand at building mythologies with his Hellboy universe, and Golden has proven in dozens of novels and short stories that he can craft compulsive page-turners with the best of them. "Joe Golem and the Copper Girl" makes the case that the two are working at the top of their considerable game. 

Making a story like this available would have been considerably more difficult without the advent of digital publishing. Some cynics might claim that they've found a way to sell potential readers the Drowning City press kit for a buck, but that's not accurate. This is a standalone piece of entertainment that's worth a read whether you plan to buy the novel later or not. More than just a taste, it's a nice, full prelude to what I can already see has the potential to be a lucrative creative venture for Mignola and Golden – and for adventurous readers – for years to come.

Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.