The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Meyer Landsman, the policeman protagonist – hero woud be pitching it far too high – has a drink problem, a failed marriage, and is inevitably taken off the case after maverick behaviour. But that’s where Chabon’s novel parts company with classic noir. Because the mean streets in question are not those of Los Angeles, but of Sitka in Alaska. This is an alternative history novel, and asks the question, what if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska – and not Israel – had become the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War? What if the homeland was on a sixty-year lease that is about to expire? Although I enjoyed this novel in the end, it took a while to pick up speed and I did struggle a bit with all the yiddish terms which Chabon so lavishly employs. Still, comments like ‘Even the most casual study of the record, Landsman thinks, would show that strange times to be a Jew have almost always been, as well, strange times to be a chicken’ amused me so much that I kept going. To be honest, I lost track of the plot a bit, but as with Raymond Chandler, the plot is not that important. Really it’s the exuberance of Chabon’s writing that is the charm of this novel. When Landsman’s gun is returned to him, he ‘weights it like a Shakespearean hero contemplating a skull.’ Open the book at practically any page and you’ll find some startling,yet somehow apt, metaphor or piece of description and it is often very funny.
A crime novel like no other.