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Michael Chabon – The Final Solution

September 1, 2010

103. The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon (2004)

Length: 140 pages

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Started: 22 August 2010
Finished: 23 August 2010

Where did it come from? Bought at Bookcloseouts.
Why do I have it? I loved Kavalier & Clay and wanted to read more of Chabon’s work, and I’m sure I needed to get my order up to some minimum amount needed for shipping.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 05 March 2007.

No Robert Downey
Jr. here; this Holmes is old…
and not quite as hot.

Summary: In this slim little novella Chabon gives us a Sherlock Holmes story – but not a story of the great detective in his prime. Rather, he paints a picture of Holmes as an old man during the height of World War II. He has long since abandoned Baker Street and now lives alone in a small country village, where the villagers want little to do with the cantankerous beekeeper they think of simply as “the old man.” However, into his life wanders nine-year-old Linus Steinman, a refugee from Nazi Germany, who is mute and nearly illiterate, but who has a beautiful African gray parrot that recites long strings of seemingly random numbers. Linus and his parrot fascinate the old man, who wonders what the numbers could be – coded German intelligence or bank account numbers? – but when the parrot goes missing, the old man must resurrect his once-famous powers of deduction in order to reunite the orphan with his only friend.

Review: While I’ve read and seen any number of Sherlock Holmes adaptations and spin-offs, I’ve yet to read any of the real thing. Nevertheless, I feel like I know enough about the mythos in order to identify when it’s done well, and Chabon does pull out a neat little story here. It’s true that the solution to the mystery of the bird’s location didn’t require a whole lot of detailed deducing, but came in a single flash of insight, hingeing on a single clue. It’s also true that the solution to the mystery of the numbers is presented to us pretty baldly, without any deducing at all (and was also pretty easy to guess.) But, as I expected from Chabon, the writing is so lovely that the rest of it didn’t matter so much. This book is full of these long, winding sentences that in anyone else’s hands would be tortuous, but Chabon turns them into something lyrical and round and lovely. He does a fine job with the character sketches as well, showing up personalities with the tiniest of details, and his depiction of the 89-year-old Holmes is perfect, and perfectly heartbreaking. Admittedly, this novella is short enough that there’s not much “there” there, but what there is is masterfully crafted. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Short enough to be easily read, I’d suggest this to fans of Sherlock Holmes stories, Michael Chabon, and World War II stories that take place somewhere other than the front, although maybe not to people who are looking for a really meaty mystery.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, Bart’s Bookshelf, Reading Matters
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railroad tracks.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 43: “Years and years ago his name – itself redolent now of the fustian and rectitude of that vanished era – had adorned the newspapers and police gazettes of the empire, but it was his more recent, local celebrity, founded almost exclusively on legends of his shyness, irascibility, and hostility to all human commerce, that drew her across to his side of the platform that morning.” -inflated or turgid language in writing or speaking.
  • p. 64: “The man from London was dressed like a cabinet minister but he moved like a cashiered soldier.” – to dismiss (a military officer) from service, esp. with disgrace.
  • p. 90: “His process of thought, hitherto a chaotic combustion fueled by twin reservoirs of unaccustomed bibulousness and a kind of jolly rage, also appeared to have come juddering to a halt.” – fond of or addicted to drink.
  • p. 105: “His vacant marriage, his useless son, the eclipse of his professional ambitions, these were the shattered windows, the scorched wallpaper, and twisted fauteuils of that wreckage; and lying over all of it like a snowfall of ash, hanging in the air like an ineradicable pall of smoke, layer after charred layer reaching all the way down to bedrock, was the knowledge of his own godlessness, of his doubt and unbelief and the distance of his own heart from that of Christ the Lord.” – an upholstered armchair, esp. one with open sides.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2010 3:02 am

    I plan to slowly but surely get through all of Chabon’s catalogue. It sounds like this might not one of his best, but it seems to be a great story anyway.

    • September 5, 2010 11:08 am

      Nymeth – As an example of Chabon’s writing, it’s great; as a story, it’s a little too short to really build up enough steam.

  2. September 1, 2010 7:27 am

    This sounds like a perfectly bite-sized piece of Chabon to wash out the taste of a bad book with, although I do prefer a little more plot in my reading. But then, I will read anything Chabon commits to paper.

    • September 5, 2010 11:09 am

      Omni – I like the idea of using this as a literary palate cleanser! I think it would be great for that.

  3. September 1, 2010 11:19 am

    I’ve never read the proper Sherlock Holmes stories either, apart from The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I read in high school, and I thought Holmes was totally mean. I think it’s perfectly possible that I prefer adaptations of Holmes to the original.

    • September 5, 2010 11:10 am

      Jenny – Your lone HS experience trumps mine, but it’s always been my impression that Holmes can be kind of a dick, especially to Watson.

  4. September 2, 2010 8:06 pm

    I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Chabon so far, and this sounds charming. I’ve only read a couple of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I want to read more. Maybe I’ll include this in that count.

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