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Who Could That Be at This Hour?: Also Published as All the Wrong Questions: Question 1" Hardcover – October 23, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-In this "autobiographical" mystery, a teenaged Lemony Snicket recounts his early experiences as an apprentice to S. Theodora Markson, a pretentious woman who is not remotely as intelligent as she pretends. The two travel to the formerly seaside (but now not) town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea to investigate the theft of, what they are told, is a priceless heirloom. The identity of the culprit is obvious. Or is it? There's much more to this case than meets the eye. To uncover what's really going on, the inquisitive Snicket must figure out who he can trust and which questions to ask before it's too late. This fast-paced whodunit is likely to leave readers with questions of their own. Hopefully, they're the right questions-which, hopefully, will be answered in upcoming sequels. Written in Snicket's gloomy, yet undeniably charming, signature style and populated with wonderfully quirky characters, this enjoyable start of a new series will thrill fans of the author's earlier works and have even reluctant readers turning pages with the fervor of seasoned bookworms. A must-have.-Alissa J. Bach, Oxford Public Library, MIα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Oh, Lemony Snicket. How you confound us. For instance, in this book, the first of the All the Wrong Questions series, you give us so many unmoored happenings that readers may be inclined to believe they’ve landed in the middle of the second book. True, we will learn you’re an almost-13-year-old boy and that you escape your parents (or are they your parents?!) in a tea room to meet the woman with whom you’ll apprentice. And then you and S. Theodora Markson (what does the S stand for?) make your way to a sea town, now devoid of the ink for which it’s famous, and deserted by its residents, to find a statue rather like the Maltese Falcon, only it’s the Bombinating Beast. Someone is waiting for you back home, but who? What’s this secret program you seem to be a part of? Who cares about the Bombinating Beast? (You may take that comment any way you wish.) But just as when you were with those charming Baudelaire children, the adventures roll and one can only speculate what’s around the corner. Not that it will do any good. Kudos to Seth for the marvelous woodcut art. The pictures seem to hold clues. Or do they? HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Please, it’s Lemony Snicket. Enough said. Grades 4-7. --Ilene Cooper
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I only just heard that a four-book prequel to the adventures and misadventures of A Series of Unfortunate Events was in the works. I’d thought to listen to the audiobook on my commute, believing it would take up a couple of days. I ended up devouring the book by day’s end and the succeeding volumes are on order from my library.
Lemony Snicket, melancholy chronicler of the Baudelaires’ story, now begins his own tale, and it’s everything you can expect from a surreal, steampunk and gothic fantasy with a nest of puzzles fit for a modern-day Encyclopedia Brown. Part comedy, part tragedy, part noir, part mystery, all Snicket.
The story itself is simple, at least on the surface: Lemony Snicket, twelve years old and going on thirteen, has at last graduated from VFD’s training in investigation, disguise and all around spycraft. He’s assigned to his mentor and chaperone: S. Theodora Markson, whose confidence in herself is matched only by her utter incompetence.
Snicket and Markson take their first case, in the fading and near-deserted ink-producing town of Stained by the Sea they are tasked with finding a stolen item of unexplained value, but every question answered opens up a host of new difficulties in a tangled plot made up of both intricate schemes and rank bumbling.
Because unfortunately, for all Snicket’s skill and training, he asks the wrong questions and only realizes in hindsight what he should have done.
He’s learning, and he has his new friends and allies in the search for truth, but only time will tell if it will be enough.
By the end I was sure of only two things: I need to read on, and I’ll need to read again.
The author is quite simply a genius in the use of first-person narration. From the very first page readers are treated to hints and foreshadowing that we know will come up later in unexpected ways, and a number of subtle clues that are only apparent upon re-reading. Just as absorbing are the clever and amusing segues of narration, seemingly unrelated to the main story, but that are guaranteed to impact the plot.
As for revolting and menacing villains, you might ask yourself: how could he match the distilled wickedness and treachery of Count Olaf?
Believe me, he does.
In “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”, Lemony Snicket is a thirteen-year-old boy, fresh from an “unusual education” at the hands of a secret organization that readers of A Series of Unfortunate Events will recognize. His apprenticeship begins when he climbs out the window of a tea-shop bathroom and only gets stranger from there. In a very strange town filled with very strange people, Lemony is hired to find a stolen object that might not be stolen at all. His mentor S. Theodora Markson, a mostly incapable woman who refuses to answer what the “S” stands for, is little help, so Lemony finds some associates of his own and solves the mystery of what exactly is going on in Stain’d by the Sea.
His associates, the side characters in the book, were fantastic. There’s Pip and Squeak, two literature loving boys who drove a taxi for “tips” (mostly cryptic book recommendations that were super fun to figure out). Later on we meet Ellington, a mysterious, coffee-loving girl with intentions unknown. Moxie, the last journalist in town and the girl in possession of the maybe-stolen statue, helps Lemony with research and pasta-making. And the adults, in typical Lemony Snicket fashion, are not nearly as helpful as they ought to be. All of the characters are quirky, and their idiosyncrasies (a word which here means whimsical peculiarities and peculiar whimsies) were so much fun.
One of my favorite things about Lemony Snicket’s writing is the wordplay. He uses repetition, definitions (see above), and strange similes (“Today was a very cold and bitter day, as cold and bitter as a cup of hot chocolate, if the cup of hot chocolate had vinegar added to it and were placed in a refrigerator for several hours”). It comes off clever, laugh-out-loud funny and very weird at the same time, and I just love it.
The mystery is also typical Lemony Snicket style, in that you have more questions at the end than you do at the beginning, but not in a frustrating way. The book does have a cliffhanger, though, just as a warning. Overall, this was a great first book in the series and has reminded me of my long lost love. I will definitely be continuing the series, and I think it’s time to give A Series of Unfortunate Events a re-read too!