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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  131 reviews
111 of 127 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.
66 of 74 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homage to an icon Sept. 7 2008
By Linda Bulger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Rural England during WWII; an old, old man who keeps bees; a mute nine-year-old Jewish orphan with an African Grey parrot that spouts strings of numbers. The old man meets the pair on the railroad tracks and finds them intriguing. Author Michael Chabon takes these elements and mixes up a short tale that's more than meets the eye.

The boy, Linus, is in the care of the Reverend and Mrs. Panicker. A lodger in their home is killed and the bird disappears; the boy is bereft. The old man (who is not named in the story) is revealed to be a long-retired detective, and becomes involved in the investigation; though his body is decrepit, his deductive powers are intact and the murderer is discovered, the bird returned to the boy. Along the way the "mad old beekeeper" wrestles with his fear of dying in an embarrassing fashion; his point of view on life at the age of 89 is one of the little treasures of the story.

This novella is Chabon's homage to the Sherlock Holmes canon -- for the old beekeeper is indeed Holmes. The title "The Final Solution" plays on the Conan Doyle title "The Final Problem". The language, though, is pure Chabon, with his complex ironical style. The mystery's not much, the story's too short, and the connection with the Holmes canon is only lightly drawn. But if you enjoy Chabon's style, then this little book will delight you; five stars for the prose but I am taking a star off for the thinness of the plotting.

I listened to the Audiobook CD edition, read by Michael York with the perfect wry emphasis. This presentation is indexed at long intervals which is a nuisance for listeners wanting to savor a passage again; and there are, I hear, illustrations in the print version that the listener does not have. It was still a highly enjoyable listening experience.

Linda Bulger, 2008
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Old Man... Jan. 5 2005
By JR Pinto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Final Solution finds Sherlock Holmes (never named, but always referred to as "the old man") an 89-year-old recluse who lives in the country and cares for nothing anymore except bee-keeping. Then, one day, a young boy with a parrot on his shoulder strolls into his life.

This is a very modest story: the safety of the free world does not rest on the outcome. It does not rely on previous Sherlock Holmes literature: Dr. Watson and Lestrade are not here; we do not find out what happened to the old man since his retirement. Chabon's style is so distinctive, we always are aware that we are reading him and not Arthur Conan Doyle; but, as Chabon is one of my favourite writers, that is not a bad thing. However, he is true to the character: I am sure that he must have read all of the real Holmes stories and gives us valuable insight into his mind at the end of his life. This is an entertaining read and would interest any fan of Sherlock Holmes or Michael Chabon.
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