Saturday, August 09, 2008

"A Story of Detection"

I just finished a very good book (novella, it's a very brisk 131 pages) by Michael Chabon entitled THE FINAL SOLUTION: A STORY OF DETECTION. I was drawn to this book because I've been hearing a lot about Chabon. In 2001 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY (which I want to read). Interestingly though, he also wrote screenplays for X-Men and The Fantastic Four movies...that were both rejected by 20th Century Fox.

Good enough to win the Pulitzer, but not good enough to write about Professor X?

Anyway, I was browsing in Borders when I happened upon THE FINAL SOLUTION. The story takes place in the 1940's in the English countryside. As the second World War rages across Europe, a mystery surrounding a mute Jewish orphan and his pet parrot (who speaks a strange series of German) pulls an 89 year-old detective out of retirement. There is murder and there is intrigue, but Chabon's novella is ultimately about more than mere mystery. It's about what mysteries mean to us. It's about a man compelled to seek information, to seek truth.

Though he's never specifically named, it's obvious that the retired (and very famous) detective is Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (the "Final Solution" being a Holmes story, as well as Hitler's plan to eliminate the Jews). Don't let that possibility make you dismiss this story, it's complex and unlike most detective stories I've ever read. This is a somber human drama wrapped in a murder-mystery.

Chabon has a light, but very literary voice that can be a bit daunting (at least at first). And I must admit, there were a few words I had to go and look up (which is never a bad thing, really). Anyway, if you're looking for something engaging AND a little challenging you should pick this one up.

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