Lemony Snicket’s new ‘All The Wrong Questions’ series had my attention from the get go. The first novel in this prequel series to his best selling ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ was released earlier this year and I remember venturing out into town on purpose to buy this short attractive looking book. Sadly, I now wish I hadn’t.
‘Who Could That Be at This Hour?’ reminisces about Lemony Snicket’s early life and how he became the man we know him to be in the later series aforementioned. He’s a boy of about twelve or thirteen and manages to escape his *cough* parents and join up with his new chaperone S. Theodora Markson, who is in definite quotation marks, a sort of sleuth come private detective.
Both Theodora Markson and Lemony Snicket are hired by an elderly lady to reclaim a stolen heirloom of hers, a wooden statue of a beast, well known in this small town’s mythology. But as usual with all these sinister detective type novels, things just aren’t as they seem as lies and corruption are at the forefront of the crime and it’s up to Lemony to figure the truth out.
I think the first problem with the book, lies simply with its blurb. If you please:
Before you consider reading “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” ask yourself these questions: 1. Are you curious about what is happening in a seaside town that is no longer by the sea? 2. Do you want to know more about a stolen item that wasn’t stolen at all? 3. Do you think that’s any of your business? Why? What kind of person are you? Really? 4. Who is that standing behind you?
Truth be told, it’s a very clever blurb indeed; put more simply it does its job well. It captures your attention and wants you to read the mystery within. Sadly however, the questions above don’t really form part of the mystery at all, which leads to a rather false blurb.
The entire book can be quite dry to read; I use the word dry simply because that’s exactly what the plot is. It isn’t juicy, it doesn’t really force you to read on and it creates far too many questions without actually answering the majority of them. This results in a rather disjointed story that seems haphazardly pieced together from two different jigsaw puzzles. It isn’t fun or entertaining, but strangely you are compelled to read to the end.
The book does have some interesting themes; a particular favourite of mine is how all of the children in this book take on the role of adults, having to solve the mystery, fight for what’s right, asking all the questions, whereas the adults are squabbling parodies of children, with little insight, intelligence or aptitude to follow things through.
I did enjoy Lemony’s character; it was interesting and somewhat satisfying to see where he got some of his trademark mannerisms from in the Unfortunate Events series. However, most of the other characters are a little wooden. If you close your eyes and try and imagine them, they all seem a little too similar and can morph into each other. No distinct voice is given to them. For example Lexington Feint and Moxie Mallahan are so similar it’s confusing to read at times.
This type of novel works on two levels, one for the children audience and one for its teenage/adult audience. The problem for both is that the story isn’t captivating enough for the children and the pace and dark themes it advertises doesn’t really follow through for its older readers. The graphic comic book-esque illustrations are however, well suited, well drawn and actually read as a story themselves. Under the pen name of Seth, the artist has taken the book’s meaning well and uplifted it for the readers. I imagine the last picture to hold some sort of clue as to what happens in the next book.
If you haven’t already guessed, yes I was immensely disappointed by this book and I don’t think I would read it again. I do give chances though, so I would perhaps read the second novel in this four part series to see where Snicket takes it. If questions are answered and the plot is much more readable then I’d definitely forgive him. However, in here the book let’s down on most fronts. It’s not that interesting, its details are brief and scatty, it doesn’t gel together and the ending is so rushed and formulaic I’m surprised it passed the publishers desk. If you are a fan of the A Series of Unfortunate Events, then please prepare yourself before reading this. You won’t find any of the Baudelaire Orphans charm, the grim macabre atmosphere or the evil ingenuity in its villain. Quite frankly, I would give it a miss altogether actually, because let’s face it you, you wouldn’t want it to ruin your take on its fantastic predecessor.
Who Could That Be at This Hour? at Goodreads