There was something I was always very good at, however, and that was teaching myself not to be frightened while frightening things are going on. It is difficult to do this, but I had learned. It is simply a matter of putting one’s fear aside, like the vegetable on the plate you don’t want to touch until all of your rice and chicken are gone, and getting frightened later, when one is out of danger. Sometimes I imagine I will be frightened for the rest of my life because of all the fear I put aside during my time in Stain’d-by-the-Sea.
Well, hey. Who Could That Be at This Hour? is sort of fantastic.
The problem, I felt, with the books about the Baudelaires was that they didn’t leave you much place to go. Daniel Handler (the author’s real name) is a wonderfully inventive author — my favorite idea of his being the hotel that sorts guests by their professions and puts them in rooms with numbers based on the Dewey decimal system — but the milieux were always vastly more interesting than the characters and plot. I wanted to know more about the V.F.D. and less about the tragic fate of each successive guardian, though of course it was fun to watch Violet and Klaus and Sunny figure out ways to get out of their awful situations.
(Side note: The Series of Unfortunate Events movie was underrated. I really liked that movie, and I would have watched more of it. It was wonderfully stylish and fun, and I did not hate Jim Carrey in it. I am sad that more movies never got made in that series. Or a television miniseries would also be acceptable.)
Who Could That Be at This Hour? is more fun from the word go, because the main character, the young Lemony Snicket himself, is not a child at the whims of doubtful fate. He’s a child with a good deal of specific training under his belt, and he’s a child who doesn’t let anything get in the way of finding out what he wants to know. At the very beginning of the book, he gets into a car with a woman called S. Theodora Markson, the least competent of the potential (VFD? we assume?) chaperones he could have chosen, under the assumption that he’ll have more leeway to do what he wants if his chaperone isn’t terribly observant or clever.
The mission is to retrieve a stolen statue (of a Bombinating Beast) and restore it to its rightful owners. Finding the statue and discerning the identity of its rightful owner is the least of Lemony Snicket’s problems, as it becomes clear rather quickly that something fishy — or quite a few things fishy — are going on in the nearly-a-ghost-town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea.
As I’ve implied, the best thing about the book is the protagonist: the young Lemony Snicket is a keen detective but not an experienced one, so you are impressed with the clues he catches and not annoyed about the clues he misses. At the end of the book, you know more about the mystery, but the mystery isn’t solved, and I am pretty psyched to read the rest of this series and get to its resolution.
(If there is one.)
(Not to spoil anything, but nothing really got resolved in the Baudelaires’ stories. I wasn’t mad and I get what Daniel Handler was trying to do, and there are a few things where I’d have liked clearer answers.)