Michael Chabon owns his writing style in a way that few authors have the guts to do. His style breathes life into his characters and their surroundings. When reading a Michael Chabon book, you don't just feel like you're there with the characters; you feel like you're experiencing it as the characters. In an era when the novel is being dominated by straightforward, cinematic narratives, Chabon's excelling at creating chilling and compelling tales.
The book is steeped in Judaism (what did you expect?), and as a non-Jew, I'm extremely glad that it provided a glossary. For the uninitiated, I imagine it's a different type of book than those who are more familiar with the Jewish faith.
Religion aside (I realize those are two big words in this case), the main character is one with whom any reader, Jew or not, can identify. Landsman is an alcoholic detective, divorced, somewhat down on his luck. About to lose his job. And dead set on solving a murder that just gets weirder and weirder. Oh, and there's chess involved.
Parts of the plot--the mystery parts, not the religious parts--are rather predictable. But the religious part adds flavour and keeps you guessing. Landsman can seem like a bit of an unpredictable loose cannon, and the ending may seem anticlimactic. But that's the thing. It never was about the mystery. It's about Landsman, his friends and family, and the fate of the Jews of the Sitka District, who are once again finding themselves exiled from yet another promised land. Chabon builds an alternate universe, stocks it with an entire world of round characters, and then proceeds to lead us through a theological exploration of a man's soul.