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Bookends: Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Purloined Parrot June 3, 2013

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Bookends: Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Purloined Parrot

By Dan Davidson

November 21, 2012Final Solution

 

The Final Solution

By Michael Chabon

Harper Perrenial

142 pages

$16.95

 

Of the tales of Sherlock Holmes there would appear to be no end. The latest movies have reinvented him as a sort of scruffy steam-punk chap engaged in continent spanning adventures. The BBC has imported him into the 21st century and reinterpreted a lot of the original titles in rather clever ways. America has brought him across the ocean and created a new weekly series, somewhat in the vein of the current crop of quirky detective shows, a la “Monk,” “the Mentalist,” “Bones,” “Talk to Me.”

There have been pastiche tales in which it has been postulated that Holmes’ retirement interest in bees is actually a cover for his distillation of a sort of royal jelly that has kept him hale and hearty well past his centennial.

Michael Chabon has a long fascination with genre fiction from Conan Doyle’s era. Indeed he has edited several volumes of such tales, and was one of the scriptwriters for the movie “John Carter”, which was based on the work of Edgar Rive Burroughs.

His take on Sherlock Holmes runs in a somewhat different direction than most, though he did title the book The Final Solution, as a nod to Conan Doyle’s short story “The Final Problem,” which is the sort of thing a lot of Sherlockians do.

His Holmes is an 89-year-old recluse who hasn’t been in London since he retired in 1921, 23 years before this story takes place. He’s known as a bit of a local character in the South Downs, where he lives in a small cottage and can often be seen out in full regalia, tending to his bee hives. The Old Man, as he is referred to throughout the book, is never actually named, but the description and the mannerisms make it obvious.

The Old Man is drawn into what becomes a mystery when he meets a young boy named Linus Steinman, and his pet parrot, Bruno, wandering on the downs. Bruno is a great mimic and given to reciting long lists of random numbers in German. Linus is a German-Jewish refugee living as a guest of the local Anglican rector and his wife. Their son is a nasty ne’er do well who is arrested on suspicion of murder when another of their borders, a Mr. Shane, is found with his head smashed in. Shane had apparently been in the act of stealing Bruno, who is nowhere to be found.

The local police inspector seeks the Old Man’s help in solving the murder, but he agrees only to help find the parrot.

“If we should encounter the actual murderer along the way, well, then it will be so much the better for you,” he tells Inspector Bellows.

It seems that the bird’s mutterings are thought to have military significance in some way, that they might be the key to some secret code.

Chabon spends some of the chapters giving us Holmes’ point of view. Other chapters are from different perspectives: Reverend Paniker, Mrs. Paniker and the Inspector. The strangest chapter in the story is from the point of view of Bruno, the parrot.

Holmes’ point of view is that of an aging genius whose body is letting him down and who fears that his mental capacities are fading as well. It takes him longer to assess situations that he used to take in with a glance, and he is sometimes hit with moments of culture shock due to his years as a recluse. Blitz damaged London sends him into a melancholy silence that he has to work to shake off. He is not at the top of his game and he knows it.

The book provides us with a satisfactory solution to the murder, but the mystery of the numbers remains unsolved, though there are strong hints that the recitation may have had more to do with passing trains than anything else.

This edition of the book contains a Q&A session with Chabon, in which he discusses the book, and his devotion to the character and the author. It’s a short read, but it’s quite enjoyable.

 

-30-

 

 

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