I read and loved [b:The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay|3985|The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay|Michael Chabon|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1355094690s/3985.jpg|2693329]. It broke my heart, which can be a good thing in a book. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a quite different book. Instead of historical fiction, it's an alternate history. In this timeline, a part of Alaska was given over to Jewish immigration just before World War II. Sixty years later, that land will revert back to the American government and the state of Alaska, leaving the residents to scatter.
But the alternate history, fascinating as it is, is much more of a background than a plot. This is first and foremost a mystery novel that happens to be set in a world with a different history than our own. That's obvious almost immediately, and it leads to a novel with remarkably little exposition. If Chabon had wanted to thoroughly explain his world, this book could have easily been another hundred pages longer. Instead, he focuses on the mystery, a detective novel that's far more noir than SFF.
As such, we spend most of the book squarely in the head of homicide detective Meyer Landsman. Luckily, he's smart enough, personable enough, and off balance enough to be interesting. And so are the people around him. Sure, many if not all of them have a certain deficit of dimensionality. But it suits the genre, and it suits the amount of time we spend with them in the book.
I do regret listening to this as an audiobook, though. There's more than a few Yiddish words thrown around, and I didn't have a clue. If I'd had the printed book in front of me, I could have paused to look up some of the words that had me mystified. I was able to figure out most, but not all, of the Yiddish words through context, though, so it wasn't a complete loss.
This isn't the book that Kavalier and Clay was, but that isn't a bad thing. It's still thoroughly entertaining and beautifully written.