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The Final Solution: A Story Of Detection    by Michael Chabon order for
Final Solution
by Michael Chabon
Order:  USA  Can
Fourth Estate, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, delivers an extraordinary literary detective story set in 1944, and starring the most well-known sleuth of all, Sherlock Holmes - in the extremities of age, he passes his time listening to the song of his bees. I especially enjoyed the unabridged CD audiobook version of this novel, which is masterfully performed by Michael York, in a variety of accents that bring each character in turn to the forefront.

Retired in Sussex, and almost as somnolent as his bees, eighty-nine-year-old Holmes is aroused one day by the sight of a mute boy (nine-year-old Linus Steinman), an African gray parrot with a 'savage red tail feather' on his shoulder. The bird enunciates a stream of numbers in German, while the boy has 'a face as wan and empty as the bottom of a beggar's tin cup.' Of Holmes, Chabon later tells us that 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 causality amid the false leads, the noise, the trackless brambles of life.' The old man is intrigued, as he rarely is in these closing days of his life.

Next we meet the Panickers at Sunday dinner. There's the 'black as a bootheel' Anglican vicar, his 'large, plain, flaxen-haired Oxfordshirewoman' wife, and hooligan son Reggie. The boy, Linus is staying with them, along with two lodgers, Mr. Shane and Mr. Parkins, who both have a surprising degree of interest in the young refugee and his parrot, Bruno. Then comes the murder of a lodger and Reggie's arrest, as the most likely, usual suspect. Young Inspector Bellows consults the old man, who's moved to track down the bird. His investigation leads him to a local historical research establishment, to a war-scarred London, and to a surprising perpetrator.

Are the numbers secret Nazi codes, will they lead to fortunes in Swiss bank accounts, what is their meaning? We wonder. The writing is lyrical, and the fact that Chabon only hints delicately at the past tragedy that the boy's origins mandate, makes it loom all the larger. The title works on many levels - the Nazi's horrific final solution, Holmes' last case, and the detective story's evolution through various possibilities to the true meaning of the numbers, key to a boy's heart. I highly recommend The Final Solution to you, especially the beautifully performed audiobook version, which is a joy to listen to.

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