Review by Chris Redmond
This short book by Michael Chabon must not be confused with another novel by the same title, that one by Walter J. Harmidarow. The subtitle of this volume is "A Story of Detection", and it is that, not so much a mystery novel. It is also not (quite) a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, since “the old man” who is the central figure is never given a name — but he is a beekeeper, he is a retired detective, he is world-famous, and I think we can draw a conclusion.
This book can be shelved near Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, first of all for the central presence of a boy who does not communicate in the usual ways. Chabon's youngster is not autistic as is Haddon's protagonist. Rather, he is a traumatized Jewish refugee from 1940s Germany (thus the book's title, unfortunate on the surface, may perhaps be justifiable). The young Linus talks comfortably only with his parrot Bruno, whose disappearance (with an accompanying murder) is the precipitating event of the plot. The local police appeal to Holmes to come out of retirement and assist them, and unsurprisingly are nonplussed when Holmes is less interested in the human death than in the fate of the parrot, which may or may not have the key to a German military cipher.
Chabon's work also resembles Haddon's in its careful literary writing. There is no skimming this book just to follow the plot, for every sentence and word matter, and the plot is rather less important than the careful observation of human beings (adult and child, detective and detected) as well as the parrot and the bees. Sentences are sometimes long and elaborately crafted, statements are indirect, reactions are as important as actions, similes are wrought as if inevitable.
Other authors have speculated about Holmes's activities and character during his long Sussex retirement. I am not aware of anyone who has described Sherlock Holmes in extreme old age, his body by no means keeping up with his mind, as well as Chabon does. For that alone, this little book earns a place in the Sherlockian library.