The Final Solution by Michael Chabon Fourth Estate $132 'A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks.' This could be the opening line of a joke, although this particular parrot, Bruno, an African grey noted as a species for their speaking ability, is an important player in this little conceit from Michael Chabon. Other players include Linus Steinman, a nine-year-old German Jewish boy who doesn't speak, the Reverend K.T. Panicker, a Church of England country vicar from Malayalee in Kerala and his English wife and their useless son, Reggie, a Dutchman named Kalb, and Detective Inspector Michael Bellows, descended from a long line of English police inspectors. The central character, apart from Bruno, is an unnamed elderly gentleman, renowned throughout Europe in his day for his detection skills, who is fond of pipe smoking, hunting caps and tweed, and whom we first encounter reading The British Bee Journal as he spies a boy with a parrot walking along the railway tracks. The place is England, Sussex, the Southern Downs; the time is summer, July 1944; the hives are full, the bees having harvested the heather for what promises to be very good honey; and Bruno is repeating a sequence of numbers, in German, when not reciting Germanic poetry or singing the odd aria. There is a murder, an abduction, a dairy research institute in the middle of beef cattle country, a search through wartime London missing bits because of the blitz, though not as many as the newspapers would have nor as much as the old man would have liked, and a neat little resolution, a chocolate if you will, enveloping a particularly dark centre. All the stuff of a classic English tale of detection, done tightly in 127 pages, just enough for a quiet winter's day read and with sufficient twists and tweaks to make for a fanciful dinnertime discussion. Chabon has fun with this book, and though its title may initially seem inappropriate, all will be revealed, even the old man's identity, which turns out to be elementary. The author also maintains a website, which tries to make available stories he has written for magazines that would otherwise be almost impossible to find. It is an eclectic site worthy of a browse - www.michaelchabon.com . Chabon is also a comic-book aficionado - he did the story for Spider-Man 2 (and the screenplay rewrite). Hollywood seems to like him. He wrote the novel Wonder Boys, which was made into a film in 2000 starring Michael Douglas and Tobey McGuire. The Wonderful Adventures of Kavalier & Clay won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. In The Final Solution, Chabon experiments with a new voice and a defter touch as he explores some of the darker themes that have come to be a feature of his work. His is a cleverness that serves, rather than subsumes, subjects of importance. African grey parrots, for instance. They deserve to be heard.