A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. ~ opening of The Final Solution
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon
Harper Perennial, 2004
Crime Fiction; 131 pgs
Set in a small town in England during 1944, a young boy with an African Gray parrot on his shoulder passes by an elderly retired detective turned beekeeper. The 9 year old boy appears to be mute. His bird is a mystery, spouting numbers in German, sometimes singing songs and making the occasional comment. A boarder at the minister's house is found dead, the minister's son charged with the crime, and the parrot is missing. The police are sure they have the right man, but turn to the old detective for help in finding the bird. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear there is quite a bit of interest in this bird and the possible secrets he may hold. During war time, codes need cracking and military secrets are highly valued. Although the former detective refuses to work the murder case, he does agree to find the missing bird, all the while doing just what he said he wouldn't do.
It took me a moment or two when I first began reading to step into the world Michael Chabon has put together for the reader in this short book, but once I did, I was quite taken with the story, the characters, and the writing. There is a definite literary feel to the book; Chabon takes great care in his word use and in creating atmosphere and his characters. The characters were well drawn, even when not much was said about them. Although, it sometimes felt as if the characters and the events in the story were kept at a distance from the reader. I was never in the story, as I often like to be. I was merely an observer.
I came to care for the boy. He had seen way more than a 9 year old boy should have, an orphan and refugee from the war. There were the Malayan minister and his wife and their wayward son, each with their own burdens to carry. And then the boarders at the minister's house, each one with their secrets and possible and ambiguous motives.
I confess I am not a Sherlock Holmes reader. I have only read one of his books, Hound of Baskersville, and while it is one of my goals in life to read more of Arthur Conan Doyle's work, I have yet to do so. And so, I utterly failed to see the connection between Michael Chabon's elderly retired detective and the famous Sherlock Holmes. I would not have known about the subtle connection had I not read the author's interview at the end of the novel. Looking back, however, it is more obvious to me--the references to the old man's deduction skills, the way the police deferred to him, his pipe, and other more minor details. I probably should have made the connection, but I didn't. I went into the book knowing nothing about it, really.
At times the story felt more academic than entertaining, however, I came to really enjoy it and the characters Chabon created. I like the author's writing style, and continue to be curious about his other books. I will read more by him in the future.
You can learn more about Michael Chabon and her books on the author's website.
Source: I own a copy of this book.
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