The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
When I was an impressionable youngster, BBC2 showed the Basil Rathbone-starring Sherlock Holmes films on Friday at 6pm – thus began my attachment to one of the five most well-known fictional characters. My favourite personification of Holmes was Jeremy Brett, which meant I had to watch ITV for once, but it was worth it – he not only looks how I imagine Holmes does but he acted like Holmes: detached, odd, inspired, aloof, bored when not working, electric when on the scent.
Of course, I don’t just enjoy the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the audiovisual medium: I read the books, which people tend to forget are really well written and entertaining, something which Chabon mentions in the Q&A at the back of this novella. Because, even though the main character in this book is only called ‘the old man’, it is plain that this is Sherlock Holmes in his twilight years.
In retirement in a small house in the country in 1944, the old man lives alone, not interacting with the world and interested only in his bees, until a young German boy with an African grey parrot on his shoulder enters his world, resulting in his return to the use of his deductive powers of old – not because of a murder involved (which is why the police ask for his help) but the desire to reunite the boy with his parrot …
Chabon writes an absorbing and charming story – the language is precise yet beautiful, a homage to Conan Doyle but still modern and timeless. Chabon gets what Sherlock the man is about and how he was as a human being: ‘A delicate, inexorable lattice of inferences began to assemble themselves, like a crystal, in the old man’s mind, shivering, catching the light in glints and surmises. It was the deepest pleasure life could afford, this deductive crystallization, this paroxysm of guesswork.’
Chabon’s non-specific references to Holmes’ previous adventures, the state of the old man’s living quarters and the way he interacts with other people captures perfectly the character of Holmes and also demonstrates how much Chabon loved the original stories (he talks about how the first story he wrote, as a 10 year old, was a Sherlock Holmes story that was the pointer for him to become a writer).
Like the original stories in The Strand, these stories are also accompanied illustrations – full-page images of an image from the story in a clean, cartoony, sketchy style that is also modern and containing a line of prose encompassed into the art. Even though The Final Solution is an extended short story (much like the original Holmes stories), it is perfectly formed and a lovely tribute to the excellent heritage of Conan Doyle.