The Final Solution
I have a strong weakness for Sherlock Holmes stories and various adaptations of the Holmes universe; I love Laurie King's Mary Russell novels, for example. I also have enjoyed the Chabon novels that I have read. Putting these together, Chabon's very short novel The Final Solution about (one is led to assume, though the name is never used)r Holmes in his reclusive retirement seemed sure to please. However, this is not an homage to the Holmes stories. The Holmes in this story is feeble and tired. He is still clever but only rarely charismatic. It would be a mistake to read this book expecting a modern addition to a set of classic favorites.
Putting those initial preconceptions aside, the book presents an interesting mystery. Holmes spots a young boy and a parrot attempting to cross the train tracks outside his home and after preventing the boy from electricuting himself on the rail finds that while the boy does not speak, the parrot has a habit of repeating strings of numbers in German. The mystery is presented - who is this boy, where are he and his parrot from, and what do the numbers mean? There are, as is expected, additional layers to the mystery, as more people become interested in the parrot's numerical messages.
This is not just a story of deduction, like the old Holmes stories, though. In keeping with Chabon's style, there is at least as much interest in the impact of this boy on the lives of the people who encounter him. While it seems clear that by the time he has met this boy Holmes has fallen out of detecting, as he spends more time with the boy there are glimmers of the classic character. The importance of the mystery doesn't appear to be the ultimate answer, but the utility of the mystery in encouraging those around him to care for the boy and his pet.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed the book as I read it, I couldn't really recommend it. If you want a good mystery, read one of the original Holmes stories (or, as I mentioned above, the modern ones by King). If you want to try out something my Chabon, go with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Review written August 2006.
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