An aging Sherlock Holmes tends his bees on Sussex Downs
Jan 22, 2010
A retired old man in failing health, 89 years old to be more precise, tends his bees on Sussex Downs in the south of England in the summer of 1944. World War II is drawing to a close as the Allies have just invaded Normandy. While England is cautiously optimistic, its people still remain wary of Germany, its people and its ability to press the war with renewed vigor. Looking out of his cottage window, the old man spots a boy walking toward the nearby railway tracks with a large gray parrot on his shoulder. Concerned that the boy may harm himself on the tracks, the old man hauls himself wearily from the cottage and stops the boy with a shout. He quickly determines that the boy is a mute. The parrot, on the other hand, is anything but, filling the air with an endless stream of chatter, poetry and, oddest of all, an apparently random sequence of numbers, the entire lot of it spoken in German!
The boy is Linus Steinman, a Jewish refugee from Germany, who lives with Mrs Panicker and her husband, the local vicar, in their modest boarding house. When Mr Shane, one of the other boarders in the home, is murdered and it is also discovered that the German speaking parrot is missing, the readers learn that the old man used to be a well known detective - of no small skill in his working days - who on more than one occasion had assisted Scotland Yard and local constabularies in the solution of sticky mysteries. In this particular case, it is clear that Scotland Yard has considerable interest in both Mr Shane (whose origin is obviously not as he had claimed) and the parrot, feeling that the random number sequences may relate in some fashion to the codes used by the German military. The police and Scotland Yard, with considerable doubts in the old man's continued abilities, grudgingly request his assistance in solving the murder and finding the lost parrot.
While the "old man" is never actually named, the reader will, of course, realize that he is Sherlock Holmes with all his trademark characteristics. He continues to smoke his pipe stuffed with a vile Turkish shag; his long lean legs are certainly more feeble and arthritic than they were in his younger days but his hawkish nose and drooping eyelids remain alert for clues; his magnifying glass is still in his pocket; he continues to scoff at the ability of the police to destroy a crime scene and consider the irrelevant while ignoring the true pertinent facts of a case.
If a potential reader is looking for a clever mystery that requires the skills of a Sherlock Holmes for its solution and resembles the clever constructions that came from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Final Solution" will fall well short of the mark and leave readers badly disappointed. The murder and the mystery of the parrot are resolved but, in my opinion, in a most humdrum fashion. Where "The Final Solution" did manage to shine quite strongly was in the simple but warmly compelling portrayal of an aging man, past the prime and sparkle of his youth, who retains much of his mental skill without the accompanying physical prowess to carry it off and who has no greater wish than to die without indignity.
At only 131 pages, "The Final Solution" is a short and easy read that does add something of value to the Sherlock Holmes legend even if that something is not a particularly interesting mystery. Recommended.