I was a little apprehensive about purchasing this sequel to last year’s New York Times bestselling, Who Could That Be At This Hour? I was pretty honest about being extremely disappointed by its lacklustre plot and uneven pace. But as a self confessed Lemony Snicket fan, I let bygones be bygones, and decided to give this a go. I knew it was going to be another mystery case set in the rather unusual, extremely run down Stain’d-by-the-Sea, but other than the obviously revealing title “When Did You See Her Last?” I didn’t know what to expect.
What I should have expected to see, and indeed you do, was Lemony Snicket’s flamboyant and peculiar writing style. I think he really set himself aside as quite original, and for the A Series of Unfortunate Events it really worked. Here however, it reads stodgy at times, but incredibly fluid in others, which is a good improvement on the first instalment. I actually found myself smirking on occasions with this second book in a four part series, chronically the young investigator, Lemony Snicket, who as we all know, was the lurk in the background storyteller in the ASOUE.
The plot really works well here, and to be honest it needed to be. A young scientist has been kidnapped, and with Lemony’s chaperone, the rather delightful (or not) S. Theodora Markson totally inept at actually solving the case, we see the young genius himself gather up all the clues. I mean it isn’t complicated, but as children’s fiction goes, it’s quite enjoyable. We see Lemony steal from a Grocery Store, stalk a deadly nurse who is exceedingly good with knives, gets arrested, breaks in to a hospital …. As you’ve probably guessed, a much more action-orientated book. And it works, I mean I struggled to get through the first instalment, but I found myself wanting to find out what happens next here, which is always a good thing.
Perhaps as we are already acquainted with the majority of the characters, I got on with them better here. I always find the eccentric journalist, Moxie Mollington a joy to read. Her relationship with Lemony is always funny, an appeal I think can extend to both its child audience as well as the adults who probably read it. And the rather ingenious turntable of adults behaving like children, and children behaving like adults is a curious, smart little feature. Lemony is brilliantly sarcastic, which I think is a real highlight.
Despite the central plot of trying to discover the kidnapped Cleo Knight, extra attention is added to the rather suspicious goings-on with Lemony’s sister back in the city. Apart from discovering that she is planning on stealing an object from a museum, it still remains largely secretive – a story arc that will undoubtedly run through the entire series. And with Lemony’s crush on Ellington Feint growing more and more obvious, When Did You See Her Last? has extra layers, both in terms of plot and themes.
Yes, it is better, considerably so, but it still fails to live up to the authors previous works. It still feels quite formal, rather than charming, and there are many annoying attributes to be found in Stain’d-by-the-Sea. When the desired effect is not to be annoyed, it does make you question just how far the author is willing to take it. And maybe it is just me, but I thought the whole point of mystery novels, whether they be for children or adults, is the whole guessing who done it. I mean it is never affirmed, just Lemony’s guess work in the beginning, but it soon becomes apparent exactly who is behind the kidnapping, and so the whole story revolves around trying to find out where the missing girl is being kept, rather than capturing the bad guy – ie, there are no surprises, which is a shame.
This sequel is much darker, and probably a little more sinister, and on the whole an improvement. It adds depth to a town that is quirky, interesting in its own right and probably has a lot of hidden secrets still yet to be unearthed. Witty characters, as well as huge amounts of sarcasm from its protagonist means I was shocked to discover, I quite enjoyed this. It still isn’t a perfect read, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t readable, and in my own opinion, I think When Did You See Her Last? has saved the series, and possibly the authors credibility.
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Other Books By Lemony Snickett
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