Meyer Landsman (or just Landsman, really) is our protagonist, and he starts the story off by being called out of his fleabag hotel room to another fleabag hotel room a few floors down to check out a dead body — because he’s a cop, not because the hotel staff are weird or something. Landsman is off duty, but when he notices the chess board set up in the room, he takes the case anyway, due to his longstanding hate-hate relationship with his father and chess, among many other family issues. Of course, when Landsman goes to investigate the death, it turns out that the body didn’t belong to just some random person, and in fact the biggest of the bigwigs in the area might not be pleased that Landsman is poking his nose in.
The first thing you need to know about this book is that it’s got an alternate history going on. I may have known that at one time, but I had forgotten, and I spent a few pages trying to figure out why Chabon was insisting that three million Jews lived in Sitka, Alaska. When he mentions that, oh, there also aren’t any in Jerusalem, I said, “Ohhhhhh,” and was much better able to follow the story from there. So, yes. Israel hasn’t happened, Sitka is where the Jews live because of some American niceness that is about to end and leave said three million Jews looking for somewhere else to go, and Landsman only has a few weeks to tie up (or, if need be, “tie up”) all of his unsolved cases before he doesn’t have a badge anymore. Woohoo!
Also, this book is less about the “who killed Mr. Dead Person” mystery than I would have liked, and much much more about all of Landsman’s problems — a chess-wizard dad who didn’t pass those genes on to his son, a sister that died in a plane accident a few months back, an ex-wife who once aborted a fetus for him and who is now his commanding officer, a cousin who once looked up to him enough to become his partner but who now just pities him, the alcoholism that lets him live with all of these people… the list goes on and on. Some of these problems intriguingly work themselves into Landsman’s Dead Person investigation, some of them just hinder it.
I was kind of dissatisfied with the ending for reasons that I keep attempting to type and then erasing, because I’m not really sure what I didn’t like about it. The various threads get tied up, for the most part, but I can’t even remember what happened at the end even though I keep going back to it right now! I guess that’s the moral of Chabon’s story… weird things can happen, but at the end of the day it’s unremarkable business as usual.
(Countdown Challenge: 2007)
books i done read
Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.