Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union | A Disappointing Trek to Alaska


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007) by Michael Chabon

My rating: 2 out of 5

Reading this book was a struggle and I nearly gave up on it twice. Both times, I was pulled back in with a brisk bit of plotting or crackling dialog characteristic of a snappy noir mystery. Unfortunately, this roller coaster ride of a read–I love it, I hate it, I’m board–came to a very unsatisfactory ending.

Author Michael Chabon (author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which I loved) imagines a world where the nation-state of Isreal has failed shortly after its founding; since then, Jews have taken refuge in Sitka, Alaska. Now, after 60 years, the Federal District of Sitka is set to revert back to Alaskan control and “the frozen chosen” refugees and their descendants, some of whom have never known any other life, are on the precipice of a great unknown.

Set against this backdrop is a murder mystery, presided over by Meyer Landsman, a washed-up homicide detective whose personal and professional life is a wreck. His new superior is his ex-wife Bina Gelbfish and in just a few months time, come the Reversion, his tremendous case load of unsolved murders will be closed for good.

Landsman lives in a rundown apartment building and it’s there that his neighbor, a heroin-addicted former chess prodigy, is found murdered in his bed. As Landsman and his half-Tlingit partner investigate, they come to the attention of a powerful Jewish mob boss. Defying orders to drop the case, things take an unexpected personal turn.

I loved the writing, but as good as it was, the story failed to engage me for any stretch at a time. The plot was unnecessarily complicated and drawn out. Frequently, I was lost and increasingly found that I didn’t much care. Plot developments were slow to materialize and some characters fell flat. Scenes between Landsman and Bina were the exception, they really hummed, and there was a clever thread of humor running throughout, but the action was just too plodding and the conclusion a real letdown.

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