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The Yiddish Policemen's Union    by Michael Chabon order for
Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Michael Chabon is a writer of whom many other writers are envious: he's young, he's brilliant, and his books will undoubtedly survive long after he is gone. Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay aside, Chabon's writing seems almost effortless, but is pure craft and magic.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, like his other books, takes you to a place you never could have imagined. In this alternate reality, during the time of the Second World War, two million Jews were transported from Germany to Alaska, where they invented their own small civilization mired in the bitterness of their treatment in Germany and their settlement in Alaska, a cold place distant from the contiguous United States. The main city is Sitka. There is little independence, and any whisperings of nationalization are immediately squashed. Yiddish is the primary language, with very little American spoken. Little happens in this people's history from World War II to the present, other than a pathetic World's Fair that now only retains the constant reminder of the reaching stone structure known as the Safety Pin. Sitka is not a happy place for a populace that dreams of Zion and a return to their true home.

Meyer Landsman is our main character, a policeman who's been in the service for many years but has little to show for it, apart from a trashed hotel room, a failed marriage, a dead sister, and his own depression over the state of his life. Then he finds out about the dead body in a nearby room. A man has been murdered and the case begins. With his partner, Landsman travels around the area, picking up clues, and trying to piece the growingly more complex case together. At the same time, his ex-wife returns to the precinct as his boss, with the news that big changes are happening and all outstanding cases must be dealt with post haste. But as Landsman digs deeper, he uncovers a larger plot, involving more bodies, and more importantly the death of his sister. The pressure increases from people in high places, as Landsman with the help of his partner and ex-wife (to whom he is again growing close), gets closer and closer to the truth.

While my hope is that Chabon will return to this incredibly developed world in future stories, The Yiddish Policemen's Union stands alone as a thrilling mystery; a Sherlock Holmes case with a Jewish twist, that keeps the reader hanging on every word until the end when the puzzle is solved, and everyone seems happy. However, the state of Sitka remains in jeopardy, which makes me hope that readers will have a chance for a return visit at a later date.

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