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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection [Hardcover]

Michael Chabon
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 28 2004

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, prose magician Michael Chabon conjured up the golden age of comic books -- intertwining history, legend, and storytelling verve. In The Final Solution, he has condensed his boundless vision to craft a short, suspenseful tale of compassion and wit that reimagines the classic nineteenth-century detective story.

In deep retirement in the English country-side, an eighty-nine-year-old man, vaguely recollected by locals as a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot. What is the meaning of the mysterious strings of German numbers the bird spews out -- a top-secret SS code? The keys to a series of Swiss bank accounts perhaps? Or something more sinister? Is the solution to this last case -- the real explanation of the mysterious boy and his parrot -- beyond even the reach of the once-famed sleuth?

Subtle revelations lead the reader to a wrenching resolution. This brilliant homage, which won the 2004 Aga Khan Prize for fiction, is the work of a master storyteller at the height of his powers.


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From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The old man Dec 20 2004
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It takes an immense amount of either skill or arrogance to attempt a Sherlock Holmes "final case." And of the two, it seems that Pulitzer-winning Michael Chabon has the former. "The Final Solution" is a smaller, more intimate story about Holmes' waning years.

The time is around World War II. An old man, once a famous detective, now sits on his porch and contemplates his beekeeping -- when he sees a young boy with a parrot walk nearby. The boy, Linus, is intelligent but mute; his parrot Bruno just rattles off numbers in German. The boy is placed with the local clergyman, Mr. Panicker, who is struggling with his faith, and his unhappy wife.

Then Bruno goes missing and the lodger Mr. Shane is found dead. Since it's unlikely that the parrot killed him, the police zone in on the Panickers' ne'er-do-well son. Then they call on the elderly detective -- not just to solve the murder, but to find the parrot, which they believe is reciting secret German codes.

"The Final Solution" is more a story about people than a mystery, although the whole subplot about the parrots is very intriguing. But Chabon focuses on the story of Holmes -- who is never specifically named -- as he ponders his twilight years, and the changes in the world around him. It's a bit saddening to read about the legendary Victorian detective in WW II, out of sync with the rest of the world.

Chabon also changes his usual writing style. In most of this book, he adjusts his style to be more like Arthur Conan Doyle's -- much more erudite, intelligent and mellow. There's one chapter that is pure Chabon (from the POV of Bruno the parrot), but the rest of the time, it feels like a much older book than it is, complete with vicarages, WW II spies and relics of the nineteenth century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A retired old man in failing health, 89 years old to be more precise, tends his bees on Sussex Downs in the south of England in the summer of 1944. World War II is drawing to a close as the Allies have just invaded Normandy. While England is cautiously optimistic, its people still remain wary of Germany, its people and its ability to press the war with renewed vigor. Looking out of his cottage window, the old man spots a boy walking toward the nearby railway tracks with a large gray parrot on his shoulder. Concerned that the boy may harm himself on the tracks, the old man hauls himself wearily from the cottage and stops the boy with a shout. He quickly determines that the boy is a mute. The parrot, on the other hand, is anything but, filling the air with an endless stream of chatter, poetry and, oddest of all, an apparently random sequence of numbers, the entire lot of it spoken in German!

The boy is Linus Steinman, a Jewish refugee from Germany, who lives with Mrs Panicker and her husband, the local vicar, in their modest boarding house. When Mr Shane, one of the other boarders in the home, is murdered and it is also discovered that the German speaking parrot is missing, the readers learn that the old man used to be a well known detective - of no small skill in his working days - who on more than one occasion had assisted Scotland Yard and local constabularies in the solution of sticky mysteries. In this particular case, it is clear that Scotland Yard has considerable interest in both Mr Shane (whose origin is obviously not as he had claimed) and the parrot, feeling that the random number sequences may relate in some fashion to the codes used by the German military.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  141 reviews
115 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chabon's Exquisite Take on the Detective Story Nov. 15 2004
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Michael Chabon's The Final Solution, A Story of Detection is an exquisite book. Chabon, who reexamined the golden age of comics in the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, takes up the detective novel.

Final Solution is set in the Sussex Downs, in Southern England in the summer of 1944. The Allies have just invaded Normandy but the war is far from over. An 89-year old man, retired to a life of quiet bee-keeping, sits looking out his window and spies a young boy strolling along some railroad tracks with a large gray parrot on his shoulder. The old man deduces that the young boy is about to do himself in and drags himself out of his chair and makes his way to the boy. The boy, Linus Steinman, turns out to be a young Jewish-German refugee, recently escaped from the horrors of occupied and resettled in England by a refugee agency. He is mute and generally uncommunicative. The only sounds emanating from the direction of the boy come from the extraordinarily loquacious parrot who comes out with an apparently never-ending stream of numbers, spoken in flawless German.

It is the talking parrot and the meaning of the random numbers that form the heart of the mystery of the Final Solution. Chabon then introduces us to the rest of his cast of characters. The mute Linus lives in a small boarding house owned by the Reverend and Mrs. Panicker. Mr. Panicker, of Malayan origin, seems to have lost his faith and seems merely to be treading water. Mrs. Panicker seems unloved and unwanted except for the meal she provides her boarders, until the mysterious Mr. Shane intervenes in an argument between Mrs. Panicker and her ne'er do well son. Mr. Shane, despite claiming to be in the dairy equipment business seems far more intriguing than his occupation suggests. The parrot incites interest and speculation on all concerned. What do those numbers mean?

Speculation and the possibility of untold wealth at the end of the random number mystery invariably lead to the murder of one of the characters. Additionally, the mysterious parrot has been stolen. Of course, the bumbling local constabulary immediately focuses on the wrong party. Into the breech steps the old man. It turns out the 89 year old bee-keeper was once a world famous detective. Still smoking a pipe and still mocking constables, the old man goes about seeking a solution to the crime.

Chabon does not provide the name of this old man but it seems clear that he could be none other than the great Sherlock Holmes. Readers of Sherlock Holmes know that Holmes retired to Sussex Downs to spend his remaining years as a bee keeper. The title of the book, Final Solution, provides another clue. Although clearly relevant to the as yet undiscovered horrors of the Holocaust implicit in Linus profound silence, it also calls to mind A.C. Doyle's The Final Problem, the famous Holmes tale where Holmes was thought to have died after falling at the Reichenbach Falls.

Although short, only 131 pages, Chabon has invested his characters with depth and nuance. His portrayals of both the old detective, Linus, and Mrs. Panicker are compelling. He even manages to invest Bruno the parrot with insight into the `human drama' unfolding before him.

This is an excellent book. Be prepared to read it in one sitting. It is that good.
67 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars exquisitely compact and realized Jan. 8 2005
By B. Capossere - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Exquisite is the best word I can come up with to describe The Final Solution, in the sense of something whose reward is so much larger than its size- a gem, or one of those delicate hors d'oeuvres whose taste lingers so finely in your mouth you don't want to eat or drink for a while.

It might be best to describe what The Final Solution is not. It isn't "Sherlockian" in the sense of an attempt to write another Conan Doyle story. It isn't a mystery in the sense that solving the "crime" is the focus of the story. Anyone looking for those will probably be disappointed.

It is, however, a beautifully written, often melancholy or elegiac work, with a love of character and language and atmosphere.

The story takes place in 1944. Holmes is a retired 89-year-old beekeeper, the war still drags on in horrific fashion, Hitler's greatest crimes are becoming known. In the midst of Holmes' solitary life drops a mute nine-year-old Jewish boy and his numbers-spouting parrot, both refugees from Germany. When a local man is killed and the parrot taken, Holmes is asked by the local police to assist. He does, but not for possibly great matters involved (the parrot's recitations might be codes, might be bank numbers, etc.) but to reunite the boy and his sole friend. Along the way we see Holmes' fabled mind at work, but also see the slow rebellion of his aging body. We begin to wonder too, with Holmes, if in this world of war and genocide if there remains a place for such order and reason as he symbolizes, if lines can still be traced through application of cause and effect, reason and sense.

The book is just over a hundred pages long, so Chabon doesn't delve heavily into such things for pages and pages, but it is enough to cast a sort of sepia, sad light over the work as a whole. The language is beautiful throughout, and the characterization of Holmes sharply poignant and loving. It is a quick read in its brevity and relative simplicity of plot, but the tone and atmosphere slow you down a bit (in a good way) and the language and characterization make you want to linger even more. Highly recommended.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent "Solution" Dec 20 2004
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It takes an immense amount of either skill or arrogance to attempt a Sherlock Holmes "final case." And of the two, it seems that Pulitzer-winning Michael Chabon has the former. "The Final Solution" is a smaller, more intimate story about Holmes' waning years.

The time is around World War II. An old man, once a famous detective, now sits on his porch and contemplates his beekeeping -- when he sees a young boy with a parrot walk nearby. The boy, Linus, is intelligent but mute; his parrot Bruno just rattles off numbers in German. The boy is placed with the local clergyman, Mr. Panicker, who is struggling with his faith, and his unhappy wife.

Then Bruno goes missing and the lodger Mr. Shane is found dead. Since it's unlikely that the parrot killed him, the police zone in on the Panickers' ne'er-do-well son. Then they call on the elderly detective -- not just to solve the murder, but to find the parrot, which they believe is reciting secret German codes.

"The Final Solution" is more a story about people than a mystery, although the whole subplot about the parrots is very intriguing. But Chabon focuses on the story of Holmes -- who is never specifically named -- as he ponders his twilight years, and the changes in the world around him. It's a bit saddening to read about the legendary Victorian detective in WW II, out of sync with the rest of the world.

Chabon also changes his usual writing style. In most of this book, he adjusts his style to be more like Arthur Conan Doyle's -- much more erudite, intelligent and mellow. There's one chapter that is pure Chabon (from the POV of Bruno the parrot), but the rest of the time, it feels like a much older book than it is, complete with vicarages, WW II spies and relics of the nineteenth century.

The old man is clearly Sherlock Holmes, even though Chabon never mentions him by name. Perhaps it's to keep from treading on literary holy ground. But he brings the right mixture of warmth and crabbiness to "the old man." He also gives depth to the supporting characters like Mr. Panicker (who is having a crisis of faith) and his wife (who has a crush on their lodger). Even Bruno gets well developed.

While "Final Solution" isn't too great as a mystery, it's an excellent novel, and a poignant tale of Sherlock Holmes' final case. Definitely worth checking out.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not even the world's greatest detective could deduce the horror of the holocaust Sept. 3 2007
By Eric D. Austrew - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an intriguing mystery story written as a tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. It is filled with strange and dramatic elements; a murder and a talking animal, a mute child and government intrigue. The protagonist is Sherlock Holmes himself, retired in old age and drawn out, in the summer of 1944, for one last investigation. And the protagonist is also a parrot, lately owned by a German Jew whose small son is the only family member to have escaped to Britain.

The parrot recites strings of numbers. Over and over again. As a modern reader, you know exactly what those numbers are from the very beginning, and when we learn that the British government is seeking out the parrot because they think it knows the keys to the German naval cipher it is almost enough to make you despair. Doesn't anybody know what's going on, what's happening at that very moment in Buchanwald and dozens of other camps?

It seems that nobody does, but Holmes, from the first, is intrigued by the numbers the parrot recites. We are reminded that this is the man who is fond of saying "When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." If anyone is capable of penetrating to the improbable truth of the concentration camps it would be Sherlock Holmes.

But in the end even the greatest mind in the history of detection can't unravel this particular mystery. The cruelty involved is so large that even Holmes' jaded and cynical expectations are exceeded. The motivation is so incomprehensible that even his logic cannot deduce it. By the end he knows that something has gone undiscovered, but he cannot quite make the leap into madness needed to make the final prediction.

I am not, in general, a subtle person, and I don't enjoy books that are as much subtext as story. It is a very rare book that can tell two stories: one within the plot and the other created by the reactions of the reader to the book. But in this case Michael Chabon has produced a subtle and worthwhile book that twists what I expected from a mystery story to produce rage and despair at things missed and deeds done.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Literary Sherlocks July 6 2005
By The Daughters Of Irene Adler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What a joy it has been of late for us Sherlockians. Not only has there been a batch of new scholarly Holmes-related books to digest and debate--among them THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES--but we've also been blessed with three very interesting and top-notch pastiches. What makes this trio of recent novels so unique is that they come from unlikely writers, individuals who fall more into the literary category than the mystery genre. I am, of course, referring to the three-headed prong that is Caleb Carr (THE ITALIAN SECRETARY), Michael Chabon (THE FINAL SOLUTION), and Mitch Cullin (A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND).

As I decided to read all three books back to back, I shall comment on them in the order in which they were read. For better or worse, I started with the one that I believed would be the most satisfying of the trio: Caleb Carr's THE ITALIAN SECRETARY. However, while I found Carr's book engaging and fun for the most part, I was somewhat disappointed with it. In hindsight, my feelings might have more to do with my high regard for Carr's previous novels--such as THE ALIENIST--than it does with the actual quality of his Sherlock novel. In other words, had THE ITALIAN SECRETARY been written by someone else, I might not have found myself feeling it lacked the strength and depth of story that I've come to expect from, yes, a Caleb Carr novel. So putting those thoughts aside, I will say that Carr's book is mostly well written and he has done a good job at capturing the spirit, intrigue, and style of Doyle. However, it fell a little flat toward the end, giving me the sense of a rushed job. Even so, both his Holmes and Watson are vivid and quite enjoyable, and I do hope he tries his hand at another Sherlock pastiche, taking his time to draw the story out rather than move it so swiftly to its conclusion. A somewhat slight but worthy read nevertheless.

Next up was Michael Chabon's THE FINAL SOLUTION, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer's look at an unnamed Sherlock in retirement, set with World War II as the backdrop. This novella--not novel--is actually quite wonderful and the writing is fluid, lyrical, and overall rather excellent. To be frank, I wasn't expecting much from such a slim volume that offered us Sherlock as an elderly gentleman. But I was mistaken. It is an intelligent diversion, and, like Mitch Cullin's novel, brings the character into a modern age that somewhat confounds him. If I have any complaints, though, it is that Chabon made a point of never mentioning Sherlock by name (he is simply The Old Man), and, by doing so, skirted the character's history and much of his background, making him a bit one dimensional. The shortness of the book, too, didn't leave much room for the plot (which is, by the way, very interesting) or other characters to be developed at any great length. Still, there was enough here to hold my interest, and, in its own way, THE FINAL SOLUTION not only compliments Mitch Cullin's longer work but its themes and story also function as a kind of extended prologue to the last book in the threesome. A wonderfully written, thoughtful addition to Holmes literature that manages to pack a decent punch in too few pages.

Poor Mitch Cullin, I thought when I finally got around to his A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND. Besides holding the distinction of being "the best American novelist you`ve probably never heard of," his attempt to capture Sherlock followed in the shadows of both Carr and Chabon's efforts (although, by comparison, I'm willing to bet Cullin toiled on his book much longer than either of his contemporaries). And yet, of the three, his vision of Holmes is the most interesting and the best realized. The writing is superb, if not downright poetic at times. Most important to me, however, was that the elderly Sherlock of this novel has been humanized in a very realistic manner but yet, without question, still reads and sounds like Doyle's creation. That is no easy achievement, and one that should be applauded. In the hands of a lesser writer, this feeble version of Sherlock could easily be considered a bad joke, or, worse, a fraud. But Cullin has rendered him with such attention and, dare I say it, loving detail that I held no doubts about the character by the book`s end. It also helped considerably that this writer had clearly researched the Canon in order to keep his facts accurate. However, to say this is a mystery novel would be misleading, because it is actually something more than that. Yes, there is a mystery here--mysteries, in fact--but they are of the grand human scale (Hiroshima, war, memory, isolation, loss of loved ones) rather than the parlor room variety, and as such they are much harder to solve. The best of the batch, and a masterful literary effort that is also a worthy addition to the Canon Pastiche.

--Beth Halloway
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