Friday, December 10, 2004

Book Review: The Final Solution - Michael Chabon

Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay") takes a shot at writing a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery. Holmes, never explicitly named, is nearing the end of his life. He has retired to Sussex, England, to keep bees. This is all that he wants to do for the remainder of his life, but the mystery of a mute boy and a stolen parrot comes into his life and calls on his skills of observation one last time.

A young boy walks into town. He is mute and he owns a parrot. The only thing the parrot seems to say is a list of numbers in German. When the parrot disappears there is suspicion of a darker motive. The police call Holmes to investigate, and though he is reluctant, he does agree to help. But Holmes' motivation is only to return the parrot to the child and not to solve the riddle of the German numbers.

There is a certain amount of wistfulness in "The Final Solution." It may be, as the title suggests, the last Sherlock Holmes mystery, and the specter of the aging Holmes does give rise to this air of sadness and remembering what has come before. So, in that manner it is a treat to get to see Sherlock one last time. But as a mystery story there isn't much to it. There is no true feeling that Chabon is giving all of the clues necessary to grasp the mystery (the twist at the end is nice and clever, though). Perhaps the problem is that the stakes here (a missing parrot) do not seem to be sufficiently large to have involved Sherlock Holmes, despite the mystery of the German numbers. "The Final Solution" is interesting for fans of Chabon, Sherlock Holmes, and as a little curio of a novella, but nothing deeper than that. It is well written, of course, being Chabon, but it feels too light. Too insubstantial.

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