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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (original 2004; edition 2004)

by Michael Chabon

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2,7961222,089 (3.39)106
Member:diana.n
Title:The Final Solution: A Story of Detection
Authors:Michael Chabon
Info:Fourth Estate (2004), Hardcover, 144 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon (2004)

Recently added byprivate library, Dr_Flanders, JoePhelan, MaraBlaise, amysisson, pellethepoet
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The Final Solution opens in Sussex Downs England in the summer of 1944. Sherlock Holmes (though never actually named), has retired from a fruitful career of crime solving in favor of a quieter life of beekeeping in the English countryside. True to form, he takes his hobby seriously-even going so far as to import a new specimen of been from Texas. Otherwise, he is more or less your typical, old curmudgeon (are we really surprised? I found this a delightful portrayal of an 89 year old Holmes).

Holmes finds his curiosity piqued by the appearance of young, mute Jewish-German immigrant boy named Linus who is constantly in the company of his beloved pet parrot. The parrot, named Bruno, regularly chants a seemingly random string of German numbers.

In the course of an evening, we find Mr. Shane, a British Foreign Officer, murdered and Bruno missing. It is assumed the bird was stolen in the interest of decoding the numbers he recites, thought to be some sort of military code or Swiss bank account number. Holmes decides to come out of retirement to assist the local police department, but only to help recover Bruno.

"here was a puzzle to kindle old appetites and energies. He felt pleased with himself for having roused his bent frame from the insidious grip of his armchair."

On the surface, this seems like a light read. The book itself is relatively short, the general story of recovering and returning a beloved child's pet is a sweet one, and who doesn't love the idea of a cantankerous old Sherlock Holmes on one last adventure? However, with a second and deeper look, this story is a lot more powerful.

[
There are really three mysteries presented here: the murder of Mr. Shane, the theft of Bruno, and the meaning of the numbers. While the first two cases are pretty easily cracked by Holmes, Chabon never reveals to the reader the meaning of the German numbers, and they seem to remain a mystery to Holmes himself.

“I doubt very much,” the old man said, “if we shall ever learn what significance, if any, those numbers may hold.”

This gives the reader a chance to play detective.

In the chapter narrated by Bruno himself, he refers to the string of numbers as the "train song". The allusion to trains seems to underscore some gravely traumatic event in Linus's life, which rendered him (mostly) mute. Given what we know-that this takes place during WWII, that Linus is a Jewish-German immigrant with no family, that historically trains were often used to transport Jews to concentration camps-we can assume that Linus is experiencing post traumatic stress in the form of isolated flashbacks of trains and the "train song" refers to the numbers on the boxcars. Perhaps Holme's inability to unravel they mystery of the numbers is a reflection of the sad times the characters find themselves in. The loss of rationale and moral order in the world-the horror of the Holocaust and the war in general-go beyond even the power of Holmes's deductive reasoning.

"The application of creative intelligence to a problem, the finding of a solution at once dogged, elegant, and wild, this had always seemed to him to be the essential business of human beings— the discovery of sense and causality amid the false leads, the noise, the trackless brambles of life. And yet he had always been haunted— had he not?— by the knowledge that there were men, lunatic cryptographers, mad detectives, who squandered their brilliance and sanity [...]"

Perhaps for die hard Sherlock fans, the simplicity of the case solving might be underwhelming. But we have to remember, we're not, in fact, reading Doyle here. This is Chabon's *take* on the classic detective. And he brings something a lot more meaningful and poignant to the tale. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Chabon's writing really sparkled here, and it was the kind of book that, once completed, left me wanting to have a long discussion about it. Perfect for a book club. ( )
  LaurenMae85 | Jul 31, 2014 |
Arthur Conan Doyle kept writing Sherlock Holmes story up until his death in 1930, but usually backdated them chronologically to place them in the detective’s heyday, the 1890s. The final story in the series’ chronological order, “The Last Bow,” takes place in 1914 on the eve of World War I, after which Holmes retires from detecting and takes up beekeeping in the country.

Michael Chabon’s novella The Final Solution takes place in Sussex in 1944, in which an unnamed, octogenarian beekeeper – who once dazzled Victorian London with his detecting skills – meets a mute Jewish refugee boy and his pet African grey parrot, which has a habit of repeating strings of German numbers. When a man is murdered and the parrot goes missing, Holmes agrees to help the local police track it down – not to solve the “unremarkable” mystery of a murder, but simply to reunite the poor child with his only friend.

The Final Solution (an obvious Holocaust reference and a less obvious reference, for readers unacquainted with Holmesian lore, to a famous story called “The Final Problem”) is firmly set within Chabon’s genre-experimentation period, being a detective story touching on all his typical themes: Judaism, the Holocaust, and even superheroes, if you consider Sherlock Holmes to be an early example of one. He doesn’t attempt to mimic Doyle’s style; this is very much a Chabon novel, with all the wonderfully descriptive writing and excellent metaphors one would expect.

I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan, but obviously many people are, and the character has of course become legend. Even though Doyle himself considered it unremarkable genre fiction which he wrote to pay the rent, many would be miffed with the idea of other writers tinkering with the great detective. But, of course, many have anyway, and there are certainly worse writers to do so than one as gifted as Michael Chabon. There are some poignant scenes as Holmes – still sharp of mind yet beginning to succumb to age – has mental episodes in which he is briefly unable to recognise anything around him.

The conquest of his mind by age was not a mere blunting or slowing down but an erasure, as of a desert capital by a drifting millenium of sand.

Likewise, the final paragraph of the book – and the revelation of precisely what the parrots’ numbers means – is sad and moving. The Final Solution makes any number of veiled commentaries on the concept of mystery and detection, but the most obvious one is the great, unsolvable mystery of the Holocaust, which hangs heavily over the story as a crime that not even Sherlock Holmes can solve. The Final Solution is a short but elegant novella, one which fans of Michael Chabon and fans of Sherlock Holmes alike can enjoy. ( )
1 vote edgeworth | Jul 27, 2014 |
This didn't do much for me. The set up was interesting and then it stopped suddenly. The interesting part is the secret of the 'old man', who seems to be a retired and very old Sherlock Holmes. It isn't really a mystery so it's hard to say if it matches the Doyle style but the style was a bit lost to me. A quick but not particularly good read.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
This novella is a slight effort, not as good as any of the other Michael Chabon I've read, but on a less demanding scale one would still say it's excellent.

It takes place in 1944 and centers around an elderly amateur sleuth who is not named but clearly meant to be Sherlock Holmes. The crime the sleuth is focused on is the disappearance of a mute Jewish refugee boy's parrot, although there is also a murder. The twin mysteries have a reasonably obvious solution, which is not really the point of the book. Instead, lurking behind everything, is the horror of the Holocaust and the parrot's recital of strings of German numbers that everyone wants to get their hands on, from British codebreakers to would-be thieves of numbered bank accounts. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
The Final Solution is Michael Chabon’s homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s a delightful short novel with a once-famous but never-named sleuth, now an elderly bee-keeper, drawn into a mystery involving a mute Jewish boy and his African Gray Parrot. In Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, almost the whole business is the powerful tidiness of rational deduction, as all the disparate pieces are put together with logic ribbon tied neatly in a bow. In Chabon’s take, the detective is old and diminished, and there is a touch of nostalgia to the story if not the person:

Oh, she thought, what a fine old man this is! Over his bearing, his speech, the tweed suit and tatterdemalion Inverness there hung, like the odor of Turkish shag, all the vanished vigor and rectitude of the empire.

Chabon has been criticized by reviewers for neglecting the tidy logical forms of the mystery, and he has been criticized for letting his prose run away with the story. It is clear, however, that this is a Chabon story and not a Doyle story. Chabon’s incredible talent is in his command of language, and the ineluctable rhythms of a long sentence. He gives us a Holmes finally aware of his limitations, and of the limitations of rationality and logic. He gives us a story with subtle allusions to heavier things yet unknown to England of the day. Only the boy and the bird knows, and it has turned the boy quiet. The bird sings of things it doesn’t understand. And so do we. ( )
  Tuirgin | Jun 9, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Chabonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ryan, JayIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
York, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The distinction's always fine between detection and invention. - Mary Jo Salter
Dedication
To the memory of Amanda Davis, first reader of these pages
First words
A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railroad tracks.
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Book description
The Final Solution is a 2004 novel by Michael Chabon. It is a detective story that in many ways pays homage to the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other writers of the genre. The story, set in 1944, revolves around an unnamed 89-year-old long-retired detective (who may or may not be Sherlock Holmes but is always called just "the old man"), now interested mostly in beekeeping, and his quest to find a missing parrot, the only friend of a mute Jewish boy. The title of the novel references Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Final Problem," in which Holmes confronts his greatest enemy, Professor Moriarty, at Reichenbach Falls, and the Final Solution, the Nazis' plan for the genocide of the Jewish people.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060777109, Paperback)

Retired to the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, rumored to be 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? Or do they hold a significance both more prosaic and far more sinister?

Though the solution may be beyond even the reach of the once-famous sleuth, the true story of the boy and his parrot is subtly revealed in a wrenching resolution.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:39 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Retired to the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, rumored to be 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? Or do they hold a significance both more prosaic and far more sinister?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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