A middle-aged alcoholic divorcee detective gets caught up in one last murder before the impending dissolution of his bureau. Along the way, he stirs up underworld demons and his own dark, tortured history, and the case becomes much a lot more than anyone expected. The twist: the story takes place in fictional Jewish Alaska, on the premise that in 1948 the Jewish colony of Israel had failed and the US government had provided the global Jewish community with a 60-year lease on an Indian Island off its northernmost coast.
This was a really enjoyable read--styled after 1940s pulp detective fiction--seedy hotels, multi-stringed murders, fatal dames, and overblown metaphors aplenty--only thoroughly (and often Hasidically) Jewish. I think the biggest prize about the book, though, is how well Chabon writes. It wasn't work to get through the prose at all, which I can't say for myself about a lot of "well-written" books, but I feel both much smarter and thoroughly entertained having come to the end.
I wasn't actually smart enough to figure out the premise on my own, unfortunately. It took a lot of "wow, there's a huge Jewish community in Alaska?" and fumbling around on Wikipedia for me to understand at last that this was an alternate history. I realize this could have been prevented by reading the flap copy. But I hope you, fellow reader, are a little less thick-headed than I am.
Defintely worth reading.