The Barnes & Noble Review
This Michael Chabon experiment with genre fiction -- a follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay -- is marked by a notable richness of character and playfulness of plot. Set in sleepy southern England in 1944, the story introduces a nine-year-old refugee, clearly intelligent but mute, and his constant companion, an African Gray parrot who spouts strings of numbers in German. Joining their ranks are a now-unbelieving Malayan minister and his underappreciated English wife, a few of their shady boardinghouse neighbors (one of whom turns up dead), and several inept police officers. When the parrot goes missing, who better to sort out the mystery but a pipe-smoking, beekeeping, 89-year-old retired detective who just happens to live in the neighborhood?
Arthur Conan Doyle fans will remember the last Sherlock Holmes book, The Final Problem, and get the reference right away. Though Chabon never calls his elderly detective by name, Holmes's spirit is decidedly alive in these pages.
Originally published as a novella in the Paris Review, the story is distinguished by its tightness and clean prose. Chabon's knack for giving even the parrot a certain realness and spark (along with a quirky insight that we would not expect) emerges as the real meat of this entertaining fiction. The Final Solution is a pleasing addition to the genre and a satisfying nod to Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Elizabeth McMillan
Initially published in the Paris Review in 2003, Chabon's first significant adult fiction since his Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) continues his sophisticated, if here somewhat skewed, appropriation of pop artifacts-in this case one of the greatest pop artifacts of all, Sherlock Holmes. As fans of the great detective know, after retirement Holmes moved from London to Sussex, where he spent his days keeping bees. Chabon's story takes place during WWII, when Holmes is 89 and intent on bee-keeping only-until a mysterious boy wanders into town. The boy is remarkable for two reasons: he's clearly intelligent but is mute, and he keeps a parrot that mouths, among other utterances, numbers in German. When the parrot is stolen, local cops turn to Holmes, and he's intrigued enough to dust off his magnifying glass and go to work. The writing here is taut and polished, and Chabon's characters and depictions of English country life are spot on. It's notable, though, that Chabon refers to Holmes never by name but persistently as "the old man"-notable because it's difficult to discern a reason other than self-conscious artistry not to name Holmes; the scenes in the novel that grip the strongest are those that feature Holmes, and more credit is due to Conan Doyle than to Chabon for that. Neither a proper mystery nor particularly fine literature, this haunting novella, for all its strengths, lies uneasily between the two and will fully please few fans of each. (Nov. 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Roused out of retirement, a former detective, now a beekeeper, is identified only as "the old man." The story opens in the summer of 1944 when he sees a boy with a parrot on his shoulder walking along the train tracks. The boy is Linus Steinman, a refugee from Nazi Germany who lives with Mr. and Mrs. Panicker and their grown son in their boardinghouse. Though Linus doesn't speak, his parrot, Bruno, recites strings of numbers in German, as well as bits of poetry and snatches of songs. When a boarder is murdered and Bruno is kidnapped, the local police try to engage the beekeeper in helping them solve the crimes. He agrees to help, but only to find the bird. Thus begins his last case, his "final solution." The double meaning of the title gives subtle layers to the story and reveals the man's deep compassion for Linus. Chabon's writing can be both startlingly clear or laced with intricacies and detours. One chapter is told from the point of view of the parrot. Readers will enjoy the realistic characters and lush descriptions, and, best of all, trying to figure out the mysteries. Even the identity of "the old man" is a mystery until they figure out the clues for themselves-the tweed suit, the pipe, the beekeeping, and the sharp mind that can only belong to one famous sleuth.-Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
In wartime England, an old sleuth comes out of retirement to solve the case of a mute boy and his parrot, and their connection to a murder. Chabon's move into the world of detective fiction (after The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, 2000, etc.) produces mostly admirable results. The year is 1944, the setting a remote British village. The retired detective who lives there in rather fearsome solitude-tending to his beekeeping-is brought back to work by the local constabulary after a recent visitor to the village turns up murdered. It's suspected by some that another new arrival to the village may have something to do with the case. Nine-year-old Linus is a mute German-Jewish boy who stays at a local rooming house and is mostly known for the German-speaking parrot that's never far from his shoulder. The sleuth soon realizes that issues of national security could be involved here, with spies and code-breaking a la The 39 Steps, and he has to bring all his analytical skill to bear. That he's an impressive detective is a fact definitely agreed upon by the police, as it is by the author himself, who drops more than a few hints that the quiet old man, whose name seems to never come up, could be the great Sherlock Holmes himself, sans Watson. The result might be less than what Chabon fans would like to see, and also less than hard-core mystery readers would prefer. Nor does a slow start help matters any. Still, though what we have here is definitely Chabon in a minor key, he hasn't spared any effort in its execution. The English countryside is engagingly detailed, a trip to London under the Blitz especially effective in its somber tone of wartime malaise. A fun, short snip of a detective yarnthat, even so, leaves more questions than answers. Agent: Mary Evans/Mary Evans Inc.
Read an Excerpt
The Final Solution
A Story of Detection
A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. His gait was dreamy and he swung a daisy as he went. With each step the boy dragged his toes in the rail bed, as if measuring out his journey with careful ruled marks of his shoetops in the gravel. It was midsummer, and there was something about the black hair and pale face of the boy against the green unfurling flag of the downs beyond, the rolling white eye of the daisy, the knobby knees in their short pants, the self-important air of the handsome gray parrot with its savage red tail feather, that charmed the old man as he watched them go by. Charmed him, or aroused his sense -- a faculty at one time renowned throughout Europe-- of promising anomaly.
The old man lowered the latest number of The British Bee Journal to the rug of Shetland wool that was spread across his own knobby but far from charming knees, and brought the long bones of his face closer to the windowpane. The tracks -- a spur of the Brighton-Eastbourne line, electrified in the late twenties with the consolidation of the Southern Railway routes -- ran along an embankment a hundred yards to the north of the cottage, between the concrete posts of a wire fence. It was ancient glass the old man peered through, rich with ripples and bubbles that twisted and toyed with the world outside. Yet even through this distorting pane it seemed to the old man that he had never before glimpsed two beings more intimate in their parsimonious sharing of a sunny summer afternoon than these.
He was struck, as well, by their apparent silence. It seemed probable to him that in any given grouping of an African gray parrot -- a notoriously prolix species -- and a boy of nine or ten, at any given moment, one or the other of them ought to be talking. Here was another anomaly. As for what it promised, this the old man -- though he had once made his fortune and his reputation through a long and brilliant series of extrapolations from unlikely groupings of facts -- could not, could never, have begun to foretell.
As he came nearly in line with the old man's window, some one hundred yards away, the boy stopped. He turned his narrow back to the old man as if he could feel the latter's gaze upon him. The parrot glanced first to the east, then to the west, with a strangely furtive air. The boy was up to something. A hunching of the shoulders, an anticipatory flexing of the knees. It was some mysterious business -- distant in time but deeply familiar -- yes --
-- the toothless clockwork engaged; the unstrung Steinway sounded: the conductor rail.
Even on a sultry afternoon like this one, when cold and damp did not trouble the hinges of his skeleton, it could be a lengthy undertaking, done properly, to rise from his chair, negotiate the shifting piles of ancient-bachelor clutter -- newspapers both cheap and of quality, trousers, bottles of salve and liver pills, learned annals and quarterlies, plates of crumbs -- that made treacherous the crossing of his parlor, and open his front door to the world. Indeed the daunting prospect of the journey from armchair to doorstep was among the reasons for his lack of commerce with the world, on the rare occasions when the world, gingerly taking hold of the brass door-knocker wrought in the hostile form of a giant Apis dorsata, came calling. Nine visitors out of ten he would sit, listening to the bemused mutterings and fumblings at the door, reminding himself that there were few now living for whom he would willingly risk catching the toe of his slipper in the hearth rug and spilling the scant remainder of his life across the cold stone floor. But as the boy with the parrot on his shoulder prepared to link his own modest puddle of electrons to the torrent of them being pumped along the conductor, or third, rail from the Southern Railway power plant on the Ouse outside of Lewes, the old man hoisted himself from his chair with such unaccustomed alacrity that the bones of his left hip produced a disturbing scrape. Lap rug and journal slid to the floor.
He wavered a moment, groping already for the door latch, though he still had to cross the entire room to reach it. His failing arterial system labored to supply his suddenly skybound brain with useful blood. His ears rang and his knees ached and his feet were plagued with stinging. He lurched, with a haste that struck him as positively giddy, toward the door, and jerked it open, somehow injuring, as he did so, the nail of his right forefinger.
"You, boy!" he called, and even to his own ears his voice sounded querulous, wheezy, even a touch demented. "Stop that at once!"
The boy turned. With one hand he clutched at the fly of his trousers. With the other he cast aside the daisy. The parrot sidestepped across the boy's shoulders to the back of his head, as if taking shelter there.
"Why, do you imagine, is there a fence?" the old man said, aware that the barrier fences had not been maintained since the war began and were in poor condition for ten miles in either direction. "For pity's sake, you'd be fried like a smelt!" As he hobbled across his dooryard toward the boy on the tracks, he took no note of the savage pounding of his heart. Or rather he noted it with anxiety and then covered the anxiety with a hard remark. "One can only imagine the stench."
Flower discarded, valuables restored with a zip to their lodging, the boy stood motionless. He held out to the old man a face as wan and empty as the bottom of a beggar's tin cup ... The Final Solution
A Story of Detection. Copyright © by Michael Chabon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.