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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection Hardcover – November 9, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 166 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006076340X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060763404
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on November 15, 2004
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.
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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.
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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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