Lemony Snicket's new and just concluded series (All the Wrong Questions), which is a prequel series to A Series of Unfortunate Events and concerns a young Lemony Snicket the character, is really good. If ASoUE is an absurdist spin on gothic novels, this one is on hard-boiled noir detective. One great thing is that you can hear his voice becoming more and more like the adult Snicket who narrates ASoUE as the series goes on. Here are my thoughts right after I finished each of them:
- Who Could That Be at This Hour?
This is my second time after back when it was released. But only the beginning of the book stays with me before this reread, because although this has the snappy pace and catchy writing of ASoUE, it doesn't have a more "normal" presence like the Baudelaire siblings to ground all the eccentricities and colorful details. Lemony Snicket as a character isn't bad, but he blends into the surroundings as part of the weirdness. So even if it's a pleasant, fun read, the case doesn't stay with me much (and the book is so open-ended that I had waited for the whole series to be available before I starts over again this time). I do love those details though, and enjoy Handler's delightful writing as usual though. 3.5/5
2.When Did You See Her Last?
Still kind of open-ended and still leaving quite a few questions more than individual installments of ASoUE. But now that the the introductions are mostly out of the way, the characters, their relationships, its unique world, and many eccentric details deepen, becoming more involving and fun. The joys are now pretty much in the same way as spending time in the world of an ASoUE book. 4/5
2.5. File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents
A nice collection of thirteen little mysteries set in the main location of All the Wrong Questions series. The mysteries are not very memorable in themselves, but they are full of colorful local characters (in the best style of Snicket's quirky ones) and great worldbuilding. 3/5
3.Shouldn't You Be in School?
Snicket's AtWQ has always had two layers at play. First is putting his own dry, absurdist spin on hard-boiled noir detective genre (like he did with the gothic genre in A Series of Unfortunate Events) minus all the overt adultness, which still doesn't exclude stuff like violence and a recurring femme fatale. Second is playing in his own universe that has been previously established in ASoUE, with the main character the narrator of that one, and various ties and characters to them (while still having those references be accessible to new readers). And this third book is the best in the new series so far because those layers come off both strongest here. The noir-ish story is darker and more thrilling, with some real danger, an encounter or two of impactful violence, and even a dash of romance and heartbreak. And it intertwines fully with Snicket's own life and organization, with his past (as shown tantalizingly in ASoUE), various characters, and recognizable references coming into very sharp focus here, and at the service of the new story (instead of being mere fan-service) to boot. If we call the world of both series Snicket-verse, this is one of its very best. 4.5/5
4.Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?
Not as varied and rich in characters and locations as the third book, because the setting is more confined to a single train. But it's still a fun Snicket take on both Agatha Christie-ish mystery and noir detective. Also a really good ending to the series, with a great mix of unexpected revelations and nicely ambiguous questions (I loved ASoUE's The End, but I imagine the general reception to this will be better than that one, because it's such an unexpected but fitting climax). And Snicket really stays through to the form of both his noir genre spin and his increasingly grey area of Snicket-verse, delivering a conclusion that has more than a touch of appropriately strong bitterness, and some small flickers of hope. 4/5