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    Review of THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon (see his website)

    HarperCollins, May 2007

    Homicide detective Meyer Landsman is an alcoholic serving out the dying days of Sitka, the Jewish enclave in Alaska. When the manager of the residence hotel where he lives knocks on his door in the middle of the night to announce a death down the hall, Landsman is not especially surprised--it's a horrible hotel. The dead man was a junkie, but he was killed with a bullet to the back of the head--not a suicide. The only clues--an unfinished chess game on the table and evidence that he had once been an ultra-orthodox Jew.

    It doesn't take long for Landsman's investigation to lead him to trouble. His boss (and ex-wife) instantly files the murder in the cold case files. When he violates her orders and investigates on his own, he's nearly killed and gets his gun and badge taken. Still, Landsman can't help tugging at the mystery. Something strange is going on--something that relates to the dead man. What Landsman can't find, though, is any reason why the dead man died. Who could benefit from this death?

    Author Michael Chabon creates an intriguing alternate history timeline. In this world, Congress established a refugee district for Jews before World War II. As a result, there was no great Western sympathy for the Jewish invasion of Palestine. But American sympathy for the plight of the refugees has vanished after over sixty years and the Sitka colony is about to revert to the state of Alaska, with any resident who isn't accepted as a legal alien, to become homeless and stateless. This world, and the winter setting of Alaska, creates the perfect venue for a different kind of hardboiled police mystery.

    Chabon creates compelling characters in Landsman, his half-Indian cousin Berko, and his ex-wife, Bina Gelbfish. His writing is especially rich, encouraging the reader to slow down and enjoy the journey rather than focus on the outcome. Chabon's descriptions and analogies never fail to surprise--or delight.

    Alternate history is an excellent way to twist the brain into looking at possibilities, roads not taken. Chabon does this in THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION. The what-ifs centering around a Jewish enclave in Alaska rather than in Israel (in 1940, FDR proposed making a section of Alaska a Jewish homeland). He also proves that alternate history is a powerful tool in delivering hardboiled fiction.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/13/07

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