Written by Michael Chabon
Published by Harper Audio
Performed by Michael York
My Advice: Pass.
It’s 1943 in Sussex, England, and an old man catches a glimpse of a nine-year-old boy with a grey parrot on his shoulder, a rather curious sight indeed. We learn that the boy, Linus Steinman, is a German Jewish refugee, and mute. His parrot Bruno, however, enjoys spewing out long series of numbers in German. Linus and Bruno live with the Panicker family–a vicar, his wife, and their ill-mannered son, Reggie. When a lodger in the household, Mr. Shane, is suddenly murdered, and the parrot stolen, the old man, intrigued with the situation, steps in to help. He wants to reunite the boy with his avian friend, and if he catches Shane’s killer while he’s at it, so the better. The old man’s identity is never specifically given, but almost any reader will figure out very soon who he is–the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, now 89 and living in quiet retirement.
The book is rather short, so one would think that the plot would move quickly, and at times, it does. Chabon even finds time to describe scenes or the appearance of various characters in great detail without bogging things down. And I really enjoyed the idea of the retired Holmes beekeeping in his unkempt little cottage, of which Chabon delighted in describing every aspect. While the language and descriptions were great, the story itself did not live up to expectations.
[ad#longpost]The plot outline on the back of the set looked so interesting, promising to “re-imagine the classic nineteenth-century detective story.” At first, I was intrigued. I love a good mystery, especially older ones, and the beginning of the book was rather intriguing. Who killed the boarder, and who was he, anyway? What are the numbers that the parrot spews forth? However, as the novella went on, the mystery became lukewarm, and I felt that the characters were never clearly defined (the only exception being that I already felt familiar with the Holmes that I knew before starting this story). In addition, I was able to figure out the whodunit before the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, which in my opinion should not happen.
Perhaps Chabon’s other books, such as the one that earned him a Pulitzer, are better, but the one saving grace of this audiobook is that it’s beautifully read by Michael York.