It’s lemony, and very Snickety! This is the first book in a new series called “All the Wrong Questions.” Lemony Snicket stars as himself for the main character, as some sort of apprentice investigator or secret agent for the V.F.D. The book starts with him climbing out of a bathroom window during the middle of tea and being picked up by his new chaperone, S. Theodora Markson. She is not a very good chaperone (or mentor, or investigator, or whatever she actually is), nor will she divulge what the “S” in her name stands for and is constantly changing the subject when asked. She believes herself to be the #2 ranked chaperone in the organization, when really she is #52 out of 52. Thank goodness Snicket can see right through her ineptitude, a word here which means a refusal to think things through properly.
They set off to a town that has been practically deserted, called Stain’d-by-the-Sea, in the middle of nowhere, with no sea in sight. It is the home of a crummy hotel, a defunct newspaper, and the legendary Bombinating Beast. A statue of this beast has been stolen, so Lemony and Theodora are hired to track it down. Who has hired them? Who has stolen it? Who is the rightful owner? Most importantly, why does everyone want this strange little knickknack in the first place? All the while, Lemony hints at the idea that this isn’t even his primary assignment. He sends messages to another female agent, who appears to be his sister, Kit, who is mentioned in A Series of Unfortunate Events. If his first wrong question is “Who could that be at this hour?” in this book, what else is about to go wrong? This whole storyline of the Bombinating Beast may be a giant red herring, or something that is intentionally misleading from the true mystery at hand. S. Theodora Markson reminds Snicket that “the map is not the territory.” Hmmm. We shall see!
This book is written in typical Snicket style, letting us get inside the head of our narrator as he thinks through all of his decisions and observations. There are several entertaining characters aside from his chaperone, including a punked-out librarian, a girl reporter who is constantly taking notes on her typewriter, two young brothers who run the only taxi service in town (my favorites), another girl in a tree, and a pair of bumbling police officers. I can’t wait to see how this becomes the backstory for the ASOUE books, which I love. If you’ve read those books, then you already know how Snicket can take up several pages to explain something in his round-about way and how a limited point of view can affect the rest of the bigger plot. If you like the writing style of ASOUE, definitely read this, but know that you will end up with more questions that when you started. It’s a mystery, after all! Also, the graphic artwork included in the book is pretty nifty as well. The only reason to NOT read this book (yet) is that the next one has no publishing date at this point. I enjoy the suspense of waiting and it always gives me a reason to re-read as each new book is released, but if you prefer to have all four books available at once, you’ll have to give these a chance to come out first.
Who Could That Be at This Hour? is an AR book, with a level of 5.5 and a point value of 6.