This little novella is Chabon’s homage to Sherlock Holmes, though his “old man” is never actually named in the story. It’s 1944, and our old man who may or may not definitely be a retired Sherlock Holmes, is living in Sussex, keeping his bees, and coming to terms with old age and a world that has moved on. This part of the story worked extremely well for me. It was so poignant to read about an aged Holmes, though the detective work isn’t anywhere near as clever as Holmes was in his heyday, or as I’ve seen it in other Holmes pastiches. The detective work isn’t Chabon’s focus anyway. He embraces genre so much more than most literary authors (probably because he loves it himself), but his style is still pretty literary.
The other part that really worked for me was the silent boy and his parrot. Linus Steinman is a Jewish refugee living with a family in the English countryside, after his parents were killed in the war. He has suffered some trauma that has clearly left him unable to speak, and his only true companion is an African Grey parrot that spouts endless series of numbers in German, and sings lovely haunting songs. When the bird goes missing and a man turns up dead, Holmes agrees to help the authorities (who think the parrot holds German state secrets) not to solve the murder, but to find the parrot for the boy.
The murder itself, I didn’t really care about, and I had very mixed feelings about the Panicker family (and their lodgers). There’s also a POV chapter from the the parrot himself near the end, and I’m not quite sure that worked for me either, but I haven’t really decided yet. Definitely one of the more interesting Holmes pastiches I’ve read, and not sorry I read it, but it was more literary than I think I wanted at the moment.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]