The Final Solution


Michael Chabon


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 26, 2009

ichael Chabon gets a ton of hype because he wrote the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I think he won a Pulitzer Prize for that book. However, I was bored by Amazing Adventures, it was 650 pages long, and much too slow. I remember having difficulty in finishing it.

The problem with The Final Solution is the opposite of Amazing Adventures - that book was too long, but The Final Solution is much too short. It checks in at 128 pages, but that page count includes some blank pages between chapters, plus some full page illustrations. This is really a novella (or a novellette? I am never sure about the distinction between the two categories.) So it is a quick read.

This is a story about Sherlock Holmes, though Chabon is careful never to call Holmes by name; instead he refers to him solely as "the old man" throughout the text. Why not call Holmes by name? From the description it is obvious who the old man is. Perhaps there was a problem obtaining permission from the Conan Doyle estate.

At the beginning of the tale, we are introduced to a boarding house full of characters, living in England during World War 2. The characters include Mr and Mrs Panicker who are the owner and the wife of the boarding house, their son Reggie, long time boarder Mr Pinker, plus a mute kid named Linus. Linus is interesting because he is a refuge from Germany (the story takes place in England during World War II) and he has a parrot who speaks long strings of German numbers - apparently some kind of code that the parrot has overheard and memorized. Into this boarding house comes Mr. Shane, a man who claims to be a travelling salesman but clearly he is something else. Shane is suspicious because is so conspiciously uninterested in a German-speaking parrot. A murder soon occurs, and the parrot disappears.

The-old-man-who-is-never-named-Sherlock-Holmes soon gets involved. The police suspect Reggie Panicker of committing the murder and stealing the bird, but Holmes has other theories. Unfortunately, the detection isn't fun, Chabon merely allows Holmes to make some astonishingly accurate pronouncements, but without any of the explanation of the subtle clues that lead to his insight. The authorities are astonished. I wondered why the authorities didn't employ Holmes in the War effort - surely he would be useful in ferreting out German spies!

This book seems like a string of character studies. I think that each chapter is focused on one of the character, including one chapter told from the point of view of the parrot. I think a long story would have allowed these characters to tell a better tale, but this just isn't long enough. The plot is too shallow.

The best thing I have read by Chabon is Gentlemen of the Silk Road. This book isn't nearly as fun, probably because it is over before it can really get going.