Friday, May 25, 2007

WHAT'S NU: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

From Michael Chabon, author of KAVALIER & CLAY, comes a What If? tale along the lines of Superman's rocket landing in Germany or Galactus selling insurance. What if the real-life proposal, to settle in Alaska the Jewish refugees of World War II, had actually occurred? TYPU conjectures the Federal District of Sitka in the Alaskan territory, created after the failure of the State of Israel in 1948, as the setting for a modern day detective novel. The temporary Alaskan Settlement Act is to expire in two months and the overarching story is: where will the millions of refugees go when the district reverts back to Alaska?

The guts of this tasty latke of a noir involves Meyer Landsman, a boozy detective who can take a shot of whiskey or two to the solar plexus. His Tlingit/Jewish partner, Berko Shemets, is there to rescue Meyer at any cost, including the security of his own growing family. Meyer's inspector boss is also is ex-wife and these two can't decide if they ever fell out of love. Meyer is under her orders to clean up the cold cases before the District closes shop. A messy case involving a dead chess master, with Messianic overtones and a connection to the fate of the Middle East, becomes too hot to handle. A good cop follows orders but there's a higher oath, to truth, that any shamus subscribes to, even at the risk of his life.

As I read this book I thought of Robert B. Parker's SPENSER novels. There's even a description in TYPU of a particle of dust, and having read most of Spenser I remember there's always a description of a dust mote somewhere in most of the books. Parker, I hate to say is now writing so sparsely that he appears to be dialing it in, although the fans will say it's the mark of a master craftsman chipping away at the block of stone until the horse appears. He's spread a little thin with two other series and now a children's book. I'm hoping Parker gets Spenser and Hawk back to the standard of Chabon's Landsman and Shemets.

In this early passage, Meyer and Berko are following a lead that takes them to a club where a musician has been murdered. The man's dog won't leave the spot on the bandstand he played. Berko does a magical native thing and releases the dog from his watch, which seemed cliche until I got to the end of the chapter:

...there is a scratching at the front door and then a long, low moan. The sound is human and forlorn, and it makes the hair on Landsman's nape stand erect. He goes to the front door and lets in the dog, who climbs back up onto the stage to the place where he has worn away the paint on the floorboards, and sits, ears raised to catch the sound of a vanished horn, waiting patiently for the leash to be restored.

If you enjoy damn good writing you will love The Yiddish Policeman's Union published by HarperCollins.

excerpt copyright 2007 by Michael Chabon

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