Some smart-aleck said that the perfect words for any great novel are all in the dictionary; the secret is just putting them in the right order. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon proves his superior ability to sort out the nouns, adjectives and verbs in the national bestseller “The Final Solution.”
This mystery novella pays homage to his childhood love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
An infamous detective known in the book simply as “the old man” would be quite happy to live the few remaining years of his life alone, reading and bee-keeping. He doesn’t account for the arrival of Linus Steinman, a mute Jewish boy, and his beloved German-speaking African gray parrot who have escaped the turmoil of World War II Germany for the English countryside.
When a murder involving the disappearance of the boy’s parrot occurs, the old man is tempted out of retirement for one last investigation. Plenty of questions arise: who is Linus Steinman? What is the significance of the strings of numbers the parrot recites? Chabon packs the pages with memorable characters and, like any decent mystery, plenty of twists and turns.
The book is short enough for even the most reluctant reader, but will keep avid bookworms entertained as well. The biggest disappointment is that the story does not last longer, and upon reaching the conclusion, it requires an immediate second reading.
Chabon is at his best when he is describing action. Many authors alternate between action and description, but Chabon does a fantastic job with flowing prose that doesn’t separate the two.
He has a great propensity for depicting how people move or look that not only immediately brings an image to the reader’s mind, but sets each character apart. With so many characters in so few pages, the author needs, and applies, effective methods for differentiating each person.
The most memorable scenes involve the boy, Linus Steinman. Even without the use of dialogue, Chabon creates a child who is deeply disturbed, yet poignantly sweet and compassionate.
The author characterizes Linus’s actions so precisely that the mysterious boy holds his own among the more prominent characters in the novella, including the old man.
Chabon never lets his audience forget the detective’s decrepit age, with every cracking joint and far-sighted squint. His inner monologue is both humorous and acerbic, and decidedly establishes the old man as a realistic figure.
Each chapter takes place from the point-of-view of a different character (including the parrot), a device that is, at the least, semi-distracting. Although the reader gets a peak inside the head of a variety of people, the narrative is best suited to retaining the old man’s viewpoint throughout.
Chabon, like the old man with his magnifying glass, takes in the minute details of character and setting. His wording is precise and clear, but retains a certain timeless quality.
Of the old man’s mental process, he writes, “The delicate, inexorable lattice of inferences began to assemble themselves, like a crystal, in the old man’s mind, shivering, catching the light in glints and surmises.”
As the plot unfolds, the reader’s mind follows the same path, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that things aren’t always as they appear.