Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket

"Lemony Snicket" -- both the pseudonym Daniel Handler has used when writing for pre-adults and the narrator of the thirteen-book "Series of Unfortunate Events" series -- has been mostly missing since that series ended in 2006, with only a few minor picture books and similar ephemera in the six years following. But Snicket came back in late 2012 with "Who Could That Be at This Hour?", the first in a series of four telling the story of the young Snicket and his first mission for a mysterious organization, at the age of not-quite-thirteen, in the broken-down town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea.

The four books collectively will be called "All the Wrong Questions," and they take their tone and style from Raymond Chandler and classic hardboiled fiction as "Unfortunate Events" took its cues from penny dreadfuls and The Perils of Pauline. The narrative voice, though, is very similar -- Handler, once again speaking as Snicket, here looking back on Snicket's life and failures from a viewpoint much farther in the future.

I can't detail the intricacies of the plot to you now; I read it too long ago. But I can remember the tone and the style and the amazingly assured voice -- and, in case I'm making it sound too dour and dull, also the humor and sheer reading pleasure of At This Hour. Handler has been a compellingly readable writer since The Basic Eight, his first novel, and no matter what else he does, he never loses track of the power of his writing to grab a reader and compel her to just keep reading. At This Hour is smart and melancholy and funny and wry and masterful, and I'm thrilled to know that there will be four more books to follow it.

(It's also well illustrated by Seth, cartoonist of It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and his cartoony and cleanly illustrative style is perfect for Snicket.)

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