The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

Fourth Estate  2004

Linus Steinman, a nine-year-old Jewish boy who escaped from Nazi Germany, wanders along railroad tracks in the English countryside with a parrot on his shoulder. A feeble old man, once a famous detective and now an eccentric beekeeper, becomes intrigued by the pair, for the boy is mute, while his bird emits a mysterious string of German numbers. Perhaps the numbers are an SS military code; perhaps they will lead to Swiss bank accounts. When a neighbor is murdered and the parrot goes missing, the old man comes out of retirement to help solve the crime.

The novella, as the title implies, is darkened by the shadow of the Holocaust. Linus’s strange silence and mysterious behavior suggest profound trauma, a depth of tragedy that is outside our comprehension, beyond human language. For the old man, the mystery becomes a vehicle for intense retrospection and self-scrutiny. A number of memorable characters are interested in solving the crime; they obsess about the significance of numbers, ponder the mysteries of communication, but most importantly yearn to make sense of the wartime wreckage of their lives. Six stylized illustrations by Jay Ryan punctuate the narrative, reminding us of Chabon’s enduring interest in comics, and showing that this book, like Summerland, is aimed at both adolescents and adults. The text insists on the old man’s astounding detective work, but unfortunately the rudimentary mystery plot never gives us the opportunity to see his brilliance. We are, though, witness to the lyrical power and beauty of Chabon’s often dazzling prose.

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