Monday, April 29, 2013

The Final Solution

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Final Solution (Harper, 2004).

Of course, we all know that Sherlock Holmes did not have a particularly long career. We are told that he retired early, to Sussex, and spent the many remaining days of a long life raising bees. Those decades have of course provided many writers with inspiration for many stories and pastiches, just as the missing years between Reichenbach Falls and "The Empty House" have done. I'm a great fan, for example, of Laurie R. King's stories, most of which are set between 1915 and the late 1920s, and recently began rereading those.

I honestly had no idea, when I began reading Michael Chabon at roughly the same time I began picking and choosing a few revisionist Holmes tales, that Chabon had written one as well. So I was exceptionally delighted to stumble into this oddball novella about an 89 year-old beekeeper - the old man is never named - who crosses paths with a mute nine year-old German boy in 1944. The boy's parrot is constantly repeating long series of numbers, leading some in the community to wonder whether these are not critical codes being chirped along, or perhaps the location to hidden Nazi treasure.

Soon, the parrot goes missing, and a local man is jailed for murder, and the local police ask the old man whether he can assist with their inquiries. With the game afoot once more, albeit moving somewhat more slowly than the man moved earlier in his life, the trail takes him back to the great city where he once worked, with several clues to follow, and hidden meanings to deduce.

A book this short - just 130 pages and hardly dense with text - is difficult to stay with long enough to embrace. However, I can't imagine anybody reading it and not finding it a completely charming little distraction. It is a clever and very well-crafted tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle, with a small, realistic, and interesting cast of characters, not least of whom is the parrot. Chabon's typically thick scene-setting and description is mostly tabled here in favor of quicker and lighter character sketches, which is what the light little plot needs. It's an absolutely perfect aperitif before diving into something like one of Carole Nelson Douglas's dense epics, and comes recommended with a smile.

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