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Fortunate event to start a series

  • Oct 31, 2012
The previous book I reviewed was J. K. Rowling's first adult fiction.  This week, by the unfortunate event of running out of book before I ran out of airport wait, I picked up Daniel Handler's (aka Lemony Snicket) first foray back on familiar ground with a young reader's novel.

The hook is that Snicket, who was the narrator of the Unfortunate Events, is the first-person writer of this book as a young man, not quite 13.  He is an apprentice to a shadowy private investigation organization, and leaves his parents in the midst of a celebratory dinner with his mentor, and is off on an out-of-town adventure in a nearly deserted village by the sea, except that neither town and parents may be what they seem.

The style is hard-boiled noir mystery (in an interview I read, Handler had chain-read Raymond Chandler in preparation), the setting is dark, deserted, and spare, the action is continuous, the dialogue is rapid-fire dry wit scaled down to fit the young-reader's market.  This doesn't mean it is dumbed down (quite the opposite), but that it is free of sexual innuendo, scatological references, vulgarity, and profanity.  Handler has had so much success because he treats his readers with adult respect (reference my discussion of the meaning of "adult" as an adjective in my review of Rowling's book), and he has returned to the genre as strong as he left it.

Of course, nothing is resolved, the mysterious events and people stack up, and the few minutes it takes to read the book blow past quickly.  This is of course planned as the first of a series, and all that is left is to wait for the next.

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Todd Stockslager ()
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I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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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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