Review

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

by Michael Chabon



It's true that you can't tell a book by its cover, but you can tell
one thing about Michael Chabon's new novella just by looking at it.
It's thin. This is not to say that THE FINAL SOLUTION isn't
brilliant, or welcome. It's both. But it's very thin, in more ways
than one.

By now, if you've been following Chabon's brilliant career with any
degree of care, you're familiar with the central conceit of THE
FINAL SOLUTION, which is that the mystery of an African gray parrot
with an ability to recite mysterious chains of German numbers
rouses the one and only Sherlock Holmes out of his aged decrepitude
and his uncomfortable retirement as a solitary beekeeper in
Sussex.

THE FINAL SOLUTION has something of the air of a tribute about it
-- to Holmes, Watson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his own bad self.
But it is a tribute that is inclusive. It is not necessary to have
any recent experience with the Canon (although why wouldn't you?)
to enjoy Chabon's work, which is so intricately written and
intensely pleasurable that it can be enjoyed by Baker Street
Irregulars and novices alike. (Perhaps even more so by novices, who
won't be so quick to pull the work to pieces.)

Just as Holmes --- even at a greatly advanced and frail age --- is
a master detective, so Chabon, even in an exceedingly small dose,
is a master of prose. Even when told from the perspective of the
parrot THE FINAL SOLUTION is somber, heavy with regret,
disappointment and tragedy, but it blazes with awareness and a
comprehensive sympathy that entwines throughout the work.

However, the construction of the book tends towards the flimsy. The
mechanisms of the plot are barely enough to confound Holmes for a
brief time. (Holmes is never referred to by name; Chabon
deferentially refers to him as "the old man" or, less charitably,
"the mad old beekeeper.") It's not enough to fool the astute
reader, who --- with a modern understanding of learning
disabilities --- will doubtless reach the necessary conclusion far
earlier.

But still, even given this one obvious drawback (which, to be fair,
doesn't make this tale all that different from Watson's
narratives), there is still much to praise about THE FINAL
SOLUTION, which manages to make even its unfortunate title work.
The description of an aged, almost forgotten Holmes is
pitch-perfect. And the illustrations are first-rate. There is much
to esteem, and little to regret, about THE FINAL SOLUTION, except
that it is thin --- thinner than it ought to be.

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection
by Michael Chabon

  • Publication Date: November 9, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate
  • ISBN-10: 006076340X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060763404