The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon
8.5/10, a lyrical Sherlock Holmes pastiche
After reading his award-winning epic “The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay,” about a pair of childhood friends who draw a comic book and grow up to become important figures in the industry, I wanted to read more of his stuff, and only just got around to picking up a couple more books. This was the shorter one, so got read first.
Disclaimer: I love Sherlock Holmes and own all his stories. Chabon lets anyone who’s familiar with the mythology know right away that this is Holmes: an old beekeeper retired to the country who analyzes the people he meets for clues about their habits, as sharp as in his heyday, if less active. But he never uses the name, whether out of copyright issues or for the purposes of the story, I’m not sure. Still, it’s clear who the “old man” is, and within the story, his name is well known.
The story kicks off when he meets a young boy with a parrot on his shoulder. The boy is mute, but the parrot is not. The old man fails to make much sense of their story, but the encounter is significant, because the bird becomes the key element in a murder at the house where the boy lives. The year is 1944, and the war figures prominently in the story.
What is always a joy to read is Chabon’s simple, lyrical descriptions, the kind that make you want to stop and read them out loud to someone. He gets under the skin of people and tells you how they tick, what makes them happy and what makes them afraid. In this way, he’s rather the opposite of Holmes, who makes his deductions based on leavings and traces; Chabon shows us the insides of everyone. The old man, though the primary character, is not the only point-of-view character. We even spend a little time getting to know the parrot.
The story is simple, the characters complicated, the language beautiful. At the core of it, the story is about people finding a purpose. The old man ponders, in a lovely passage, that he is more afraid of dying without dignity than of dying on its own. When detecting, looking for clues, he feels death could come upon him then and he wouldn’t mind, because detecting is his life’s work. We see that same lack of purpose in the adoptive father of the mute boy, a vicar who does not feel very religious, as well as his wife, struggling to come to grips with the attitude of their natural son, and even in the parrot itself, who holds a surprising number of secrets in its little head.
If you are a Holmes fan, you will enjoy this; if you like good writing and characters, you will enjoy it. The story feels more organic than planned, but that didn’t bother me at all, nor will it stop me from recommending this book.