Sherlock Holmes is one of those characters that you just kind of assume everyone loves. He’s one of the most iconic and long-lasting characters in literature, and has survived for more than one hundred years, venturing into all kinds of different mediums, with sometimes mixed success, but they’re almost always enjoyable. He’s just a great character, and pretty much any story featuring him is going to be worth it. And while I really love the character, and have experiences all sorts of stories featuring him in various way, I sadly haven’t read all of the Arthur Conan Doyle novels. I’m close, but he’s one of those characters that it’s hard to be a completest, because they just keep making stories with him. But there’s one type of Sherlock Holmes stories that I really am interested in, old Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know hwy, but for whatever reason people are fascinated in what Sherlock Holmes would be up to in his old age. Maybe it’s because the world changed so rapidly in the years after his height of popularity, but it’s always interesting to see what kind of mysteries the man is up to after we usually tune out. There have been several stories that look at this subject matter, and to be honest, they’re all pretty similar. He’s old, cranky, losing his wit, and obsessed with bees. I don’t really remember why the bee thing is so prevalent, I assume one of the Doyle novels referenced the bees or something, but they’re always there. Sometimes more than others, like the film Mr. Holmes and the novel it was more or less based on, A Slight Trick of the Mind, but they more or less follow the same formula. So I’m a pretty big mark for Sherlock Holmes stories, and when I find one that’s written by one of my favorite authors of all time, of course I’m going to check it out.
Now, before I get into the premise of the book, I will say that I didn’t realize that this was only a novella, and was pretty shocked at how quickly I made it through this little story. And I’m not quite sure why it’s just a novella, because I feel like it could have been expanded to a full-length story, but whatever, it’s not my story. Anyway, the plot! The story follows an aged detective, who is never actually called Sherlock Holmes, but c’mon, it’s totally Sherlock Holmes. He’s living alone in a cottage in a rural English town, busying himself with his beekeeping and doing his best not to think about his past or his dwindling cognitive abilities. It’s set in 1944, and Holmes is doing his best to ignore the strife that’s surrounding the world, and just trying to live his life. But he’s brought out of his self-imposed exile when he meets a small mute German refuge named Linus and his parrot Bruno. Linus is living in a boarding house in the nearby town, and Bruno the parrot just rambled off random German numbers. Which isn’t that strange, but when one of the people living at the boarding house, who seemed to work for the British Government is killed after trying to steal the parrot, Holmes is dragged in. He really only promises to find the bird, and if the murder gets solved in the process, so be it. So Holmes begins investigating the town, uncovering all sorts of unsavory details that the quaint little town is hiding just below the surface, and eventually tracks the bird to London, where it’s been kidnapped by a German man who thinks the bird is giving up some sort of secrets. So Holmes has the murderer arrested, brings the bird back to the orphan, and everyone lives happily ever after, except for everyone perishing in the nightmare taking place in Europe, which we’re reminded of by the implication that the numbers the parrot is reciting have something to do with the trains bringing people to the concentration camps.
I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. I’ve never been much for novellas, because more often than not they feel a little rushed, or lacking in plot, and this one wasn’t that different. The story was fine, but it didn’t really click with me. I’m not really sure what the significance of never expressly referring to the old man as Sherlock Holmes was, but that really wasn’t my main problem. It just didn’t really excite me. Having Sherlock Holmes investigate a crime possibly relating to Nazis in the height of World War II could have been amazing, but it was just so low-key and mild that I just didn’t take much from it. It was nice to see Holmes solve one last case, like I’ve read so many times before, and the characterization was pretty solid, there was just something about the book that didn’t work. And I’m not sure what it was. I love Chabon, I love Holmes, and the premise intrigued me. Just a swing and a miss for me.
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection was written by Michael Chabon, 2004
Categories: Page Turners