The Yiddish Policemans Union

By Michael Chabon
HarperCollins (May, $26.95)

Michael Chabon loves to shoehorn his outsized imagination into the conventions of whatever genre catches his fancy, and here he decided the hardboiled detective novel was in need of a thorough postmodern frisking. He starts with a bit of history-trivia detritus — that Alaska was once considered as a possible locale for a Jewish homeland — and then whisks us into the town of Sitka, an imaginary tundra of bitter weather and embittered Jews. His Marlow is Meyer Landsman, a grumpy alcoholic policeman obsessed with solving a nasty, tip-of-the-iceberg murder. He's also facing the Reversion, when after 60 years of neglect Alaska will regain control of the broken-down little world of Sitka, forcing the refugees back out into the wilds of history. Chabon (and Landsman) has a lot on his plate here already, what with religious identity, a looming apocalypse, substance abuse, black comedy and dealings between Landsman and his lovely former missus (who is also the cop's boss). The whole thing gets a little more unwieldy than either the writer, the policeman, or the reader can be expected to handily manage. All the clever Yiddish tough-guy talk gets a little repetitive, too. In other words, there's a lot of snow piling up on the A-frame roof by the end, and Chabon doesn't rock the sprawl as well as he did in the Pulitzer-winning Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. But Yiddish Policeman's Union is still a work of gritty, imaginative, and freewheeling entertainment by one of California's, and America's, best writers. —F.R.

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