Top positive review
A Great Sherlock Holmes Pastiche!
Reviewed in the United States on July 9, 2019
In Michael Chabon’s “The Final Solution: A Story of Detection,” Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder and stolen parrot near Sussex, with both appearing connected to British Intelligence during the waning days of World War II. In this story, Holmes has been formally retired since 10 August 1914, but he will consult with the local constabulary from time to time if the case should interest him. In this instance, the police seek his help regarding a murder, but it’s the stolen African Grey Parrot reciting strings of numbers in German that most interests the Great Detective and convinces him to spare time from tending his bees on Sussex Downs. Describing Holmes, Chabon writes, “Inspector Bellows was too flummoxed to gloat. He had heard the tales, the legends, the wild, famous leaps of induction pulled off by the old man in his heyday, assassins inferred from cigar ash, horse thieves from the absence of a watchdog’s bark” (pg. 25). In this, Chabon more accurately describes Holmes’s form of logic as induction, though it would be most accurate to term it abductive reasoning. In any event, it’s more accurate than calling it “deduction,” though Chabon uses that term later on in order to maintain felicity in his pastiche (pg. 61). Jay Ryan’s illustrations capture the tone of Chabon’s story and use a dynamic style to incorporate the text they depict.
Though Chabon never specifically identifies the old detective as Sherlock Holmes, there exists ample circumstantial evidence to make the conclusion obvious. To begin with, Chabon works in various references to the Holmes canon. For example, the date he lists of his retirement (August 1914) comes from Doyle’s “His Last Bow. The War Service of Sherlock Holmes,” which was the penultimate chronological story. Chabon describes the railway tracks outside Holmes’s window as “a spur of the Brighton-Eastbourne line” (pg. 2), while runs along the coast of Sussex. In the aforementioned story from Doyle, Holmes retired to Sussex Downs where he took up beekeeping (a plot point that also occurs in “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”). Chabon later confirms this location toward the story’s end (pg. 126). Further, the old detective dresses in an “Inverness” coat (pg. 50) and “hunting cap” (pg. 54), the wardrobe that Sidney Paget famously illustrated Holmes wearing in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” and “The Adventure of the Silver Blaze” and which eventually became the most identifiable Holmes fashion through William Gillette’s stage plays and Basil Rathbone’s films. Through these connections and the nature of the mystery, Chabon creates a worthy pastiche. The story’s length resembles the canonical fifty-six Holmes short stories. His portrayal of an aging Holmes foreshadowed Mitch Cillin’s own depiction in “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” which was published a decade after Chabon’s book.