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The year is 1944 and somewhere in rural England, an ancient bee-keeper becomes involved in the life of a nine-year old mute Jewish boy and his pet parrot. This intriguing premise and the added allure of it being a Sherlock Holmes tribute drew me to this slim little novella written by the luminous Michael Chabon.
The Sherlock Holmes character, known through the book only as the ‘old man’, naturally, has a case to solve. The boy, Linus, having been separated from his family in Nazi Germany, lives with an English family which takes in boarders to supplement their income- it is the murder of one of these boarders that is brought to the old man for him to help the local police with. However, Bruno the African grey parrot (the boy’s only friend) also subsequently disappears. And it is this disappearance that draws the old man more to the case than the actual murder.
Each character is finely etched and has a well-defined motivation: as can be expected from Chabon, the prose is precise and threaded with an inherent understanding of the human condition. I find this aspect the most interesting in the book- whether it is the character itself or his or her reaction to the upheaval brought about by the murder, Chabon paints each man and the lone woman with steady, empathetic strokes. And what a delight to have a ‘barefoot, boot-black’ youth (now middle-aged) from Kerala as the pastor of an English village church!
Ultimately, the ending lives up to the title of the book with a subtlety that I did not quite grasp immediately- and when I did, it increased the book’s appeal manifold. Chabon is in quite fine, if unexpected, form. Sherlock Holmes would have been pleased.