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The Final Solution: A Story of Detection
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection
Michael Chabon
Harper, 2004
144 pp., 16.95

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John Utz

The Game Is Afoot

Sherlock Holmes returns—again.

To a degree perhaps unmatched by any other fictional character, Sherlock Holmes continues to capture our imagination. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 short stories and four novellas featuring Holmes have never been out of print and continue to sell in countless editions. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volumes 1 and 2, released last year, distills and applies Sherlockian scholarship to the short stories with all the seriousness of an annotated Bible. (A third volume, with the novels, is forthcoming.) And this is just to mention Doyle's original tales. Even before Doyle put down his pen in 1927, an army of Holmes imitators arose, including such execrable upstarts as Picklock Holes, Hemlock Jones, Holmlock Shears, and Sherlaw Kombs.

The most popular Baker Street spinoffs are the pastiches in which Holmes himself appears as protagonist. Many a mystery writer has tossed off a Holmes story in affectionate homage or parody or both. The latterday vogue for the novel-length pastiche began with Nicholas Meyer's 1974 bestseller The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, in which Holmes meets Sigmund Freud. Also notable in this vein is Laurie King's popular series about Mary Russell, a prodigious young woman who apprentices herself to Holmes and eventually marries him, despite being forty years his junior. In their latest adventure, Locked Rooms, just published, Holmes and Russell travel to San Francisco, where they encounter Dashiell Hammett. And new entries keep coming: Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind and Caleb Carr's The Italian Secretary also appeared earlier this year.

Even given this cultural obsession with the great detective, it might come as something of a surprise that the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction would write a novella with Sherlock Holmes as its protagonist. Writers of serious literature rarely risk forays into genre fiction, let alone derivative genre fiction. But in Michael Chabon's hands, a Sherlock Holmes story becomes an opportunity for much deeper ...

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