The Final Solution: A Story of Detection – Michael Chabon

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For a crime novel or a novella to be penned, it is almost taken for granted that a de riguer template is an indispensable necessity. Or at least this was what S.S.Van Dine insisted with his “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.” In addition to the compulsory presence of the detective, triggered by the committing of a heinous crime, a few other unavoidable accoutrements need to partner the crime and its solver. Clues, that are both apparent and hidden, an unbiased attitude on the part of the detective etc.

We are not privy to the fact as to whether or not Van Dine influenced the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, but in “Final Solution”, Michael Chabon dishes up a delectable feast for his readers. The throes of the Holocaust are hauntingly imminent as they permeate the pages of the book, yet remaining startlingly invisible. While the octogenarian detective is never mentioned by name, an unmistakable allusion to his trusted companion, the magnifying glass, around whose bezel, “an affectionate inscription from the sole great friend of his life” can be found, leaves us in no dilemma that the protagonist in question is none other than Sherlock Holmes. “The Final Solution” might also be a clever take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem.” A disquieting problem where Holmes plummets to his unfortunate and untimely death at the Reichenbach Falls while grappling with his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, only to resurrect at the hands of his creator on account of immense pressure from the fans of the series.

A nine year old Jewish boy named Linus Steinmann, who is wont to keep a permanent silence has an exotic parrot for company. Given to reciting bits and scraps of Goethe and Schiller, in addition to the occasional Gilbert and Sullivan, the peculiar parrot named Bruno also reels out incoherent and inchoate sequences of German numbers. This singularly peculiar habit of the parrot in spewing out numerals raises more than just eyebrows when it is ascertained that Steinmann is a refugee from Nazi Germany. Could these seemingly senseless numbers contain the key to treasures unimagined such as Nazi Codes or Swiss Bank Accounts? Things take a murky turn when the parrot is mysteriously abducted and a newest occupant of the vicarage where the boy resides is found murdered with a great bit of the back of his head caved in. When all suspicious land on the wastrel of a son of the vicar, Reggie Panicker (the Senior Mr. Panicker being a native of Kerala who comes to settle in England as a result of marriage to his senior’s daughter), the distraught Panickers have nowhere to go but to the legendary aging bee keeper who as per legendary folklore has bested innumerable foes and solved the impossible of mysteries.

With obstinate knees that creak and a withered body that aches and groans, Holmes sets out solve both the mystery relating to the abduction of the parrot, and the brutal murder of the latest occupant of the vicarage. The penultimate chapter of the book is entirely narrated from Bruno’s perspective thus making for some picturesque reading. There are unmissable shades of Joseph Conrad, especially in the final two chapters.

The book ends with Holmes ruminating wistfully on the welcome prospect of a smile on the boy’s face which otherwise is set in a perpetual state of grimness. “The business of detection has for so many years been caught up with questions of remuneration and reward that although he was by now long beyond such concerns he felt, with surprising vigor, that the boy owed him the payment of a smile.”

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