The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

January 4, 2010 at 4:51 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction | Leave a comment

This short and engaging work is subtitled a “a story of detection” and indeed it follows a detective solving a mystery in 1944. The main character is never named but it is clear from the start that he is Sherlock Holmes, an extremely old Sherlock Holmes who has long since outlived his few friends and retired to the countryside. But although as the title implies Holmes comes briefly out of retirement to solve one last mystery, the novel is not too concerned with the mystery. The situation Holmes unravels is a clever enough little construction, but it’s straightforward and not especially interesting. Although published as a standalone book, this is really a novella not a novel, so there’s not enough space to spin a more typically convoluted web.

While the author isn’t particularly interested in the mystery, the “story of detection” label remains accurate. Holmes was defined, both for us and in his own mind, by his mental powers, but he feels these slipping away. The aches and pains of his joints are unwelcome reminders of the more subtle decay of his mind. Meanwhile he finds himself in a world that has moved on from the one he knew. He may be able to solve one last mystery, but he no longer can fully understand what happened and why.

As a premise for a novel this is a little thin, so it’s fortunate that Chabon stuck with a shorter format. The Final Solution makes its points and gets out before it outstays its welcome. It makes me wish more prominent authors were willing to aim for brevity.

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