The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay didn't just elevate Michael Chabon into the ranks of Pulitzer Prize winners; it changed the nature of his work, judging by his recent output. Chabon's early stories and novels tended toward angsty slices of life grounded in genteel naturalism, but just prior to Kavalier & Clay, he began to experiment with stories that crossed lurid pulp conventions with everyday anxieties. After writing a novel that explained those connections more profoundly, Chabon has been making bolder, more direct excursions into genre writing. Some have been pretty woeful, like the children's novel Summerland and his Escapist comic books. Others, like the covert Sherlock Holmes novella The Final Solution, make for sublime homage.
Chabon never calls Holmes by name in The Final Solution, but he drops plenty of hints that his elderly detective heronow retired in rural England and devoted to beekeepingis the same man who could once divine a murderer's identity from a cat's whisker. The story has Holmes trying to track down a lost parrot for a mute young Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, the local police track the person who may have stolen the bird and murdered a man in the process. And nearly everyone involved in the case ponders what may be the essential clue: a string of numbers that the parrot habitually recites in a singsong voice.
Chabon handles the mystery devices fairly well, but in the best parts of The Final Solution, he becomes transported by his own powers of description, dedicating page after page to the extraction of honey, or the contents of a dairyman's trunk. Chabon uses Holmes' physical decline as a metaphor for the sunset of the British Empire, and luxuriates in Anglophilic detail before strolling leisurely to a profoundly emotional ending. The essential cluemissed by Holmes and most of the Western worldappears in the book's title, which has a different meaning to modern readers than it does to the characters. Holmes may not know what the parrot's numbers and train songs mean, but by the end of the book, the readers should, just as we should know that some mysteries can't be solved in quaint detective fiction.