Review: Who Could That Be at This Hour?, Lemony Snicket

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.)

24 thoughts on “Review: Who Could That Be at This Hour?, Lemony Snicket

  1. I adored the Lemony Snicket film – it was quirky and beautifully composed. It’s a favourite at Gaskell towers still. I got fed up with the books though after halfway through vol 6 – so I never reached The End. I’d love a TV series or another film.

    However I’ve read one of his adult books and it was just like a grown-up version of Lemony Snicket and I really liked it a lot. Sure I’d like this one too.

    • Me too! Why didn’t more of those films happen? And I really liked the young actress who played Violet too, and I don’t know whatever happened to her apart from maybe she was in one horror movie one time. :/

      What adult book was it? I don’t thiiiiink I’ve read any of his grown-up work.

  2. I loved the Series of Unfortunate Events, although I loved the later books less than I did the earlier ones. The first eight were amazing, but I think you’re right that there wasn’t anywhere to go after a while. The volumes and volumes of world-building needed to stop building and resolve a few more things. I didn’t hate the ending, but I didn’t love it the way I’d hoped.

    Despite that disappointment, I keep meaning to try some of Handler’s other stuff, and this is pretty tempting.

    • It’s fun! I recommend it. But the series isn’t done yet, so it still has time to disappoint us. If it does, at least it will be shorter! Four books rather than thirteen, which really was too many.

  3. I read the first Series of Unflrtunate Events but the second one was The Reptile Room and I don’t do snakes so I never got past the first book. I might have to check this one out and hope he doesn’t bring snakes into any of the books. Hopefully this series won’t end with as many things unresolved as it sounds like the other did. I’m someone who needs answers.

    • Hahahah, I don’t think there are snakes in any of the books apart from The Reptile Room. The snakes in The Reptile Room are perfectly friendly, as well — if that makes you feel any better!

  4. I loved Unfortunate Events. Like, they were so delightful to read I almost didn’t care what was happening. My mom gave me Who Could That Be? when it came out because she knows me so well. I have high hopes for more.

    • Fair enough! I enjoyed each individual book, but I think I got annoyed with the series as an ongoing story. I should reread them without any expectation of resolution, and see where that gets me.

  5. I’ve seen and enjoyed the series of unfortunate events movie although I have yet to read the books.

    Since I liked the movie so much, I never got around to reading the books (I’d hate to have to compare). I think I”ll like this one though.

    • Didn’t the movie make you wish for more movies? I loved those kids, and the movie made me giggle many times! Why did they not make more? Whyyyyy?

  6. This sounds like I’d like it. I haven’t read The Series of Unfortunate Events, but I did read Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler. I kind of like his style.

    • I forgot about that book! I knew I’d read something he’d written under his real name, and it was Why We Broke Up, and yes, I liked it a lot too.

  7. I haven’t read any of the books yet. I remember my sister getting them and telling me they weren’t too good and I just believed her without looking into it (pre-blogging days). I love the idea of the author being a character, it’s intriguing enough I’m surprised more authors don’t do it. I guess things not being resolved just works where it wouldn’t in other books.

    • If you’re going to try Lemony Snicket, I’d start with this, rather than the Baudelaire books. The Baudelaire books are good, but I don’t know that there needed to be thirteen of them — after a while it felt like they were spinning the wheels a bit. Who Could That Be at This Hour has a good bit more oomph (so far).

  8. I think you’re right about the Lemony Snicket movie – it was one of the few times I didn’t hate Carrey. And I do like Handler’s writing in general, though I hear you about leaving those more interesting side characters on, well, the side. I’ll have to read this one!

    • Basically the only two times I haven’t hated Jim Carrey were this movie and Eternal Sunshine. Even in The Truman Show, which people claimed he was less hateable in, I found him maddening to watch.

  9. I’ve only ever read THE BASIC EIGHT by Daniel Handler, which I really enjoyed, and which completely spoiled Marisha Pessl’s SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS for me, since I thought Handler had treated the topic much better. This sounds fun, though!

    • Wow, really? I didn’t realize what the plot of that book was. I’ll have to give it a try, I’ve only read Why We Broke Up by him under his real name.

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