It would have been too easy to include the trailer or a clip from the move adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events at the beginning of this review. Cary Grant’s “Hoodoo” skit in The Bachelor and the Bobbie Soxer does a better job at describing the subtle wordplay and humor in Snicket’s Who Could That Be at This Hour .
My introduction to Lemony Snicket was the movie adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I enjoyed the movie and have been wanting to read the books since, but for one reason or another just haven’t yet. I picked up Who Could That Be at This Hour at my local library looking for something my children could read on their own or that I could read to them.
I recognized the name on the spine (Lemony Snicket) and was intrigued by the name of the book and the name of this new series: “All the Wrong Questions.” We had read Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of This Book is Secret and enjoyed it. Who Could That Be at This Hour promised the same enjoyment.
It was a little hard getting started. While both books (Who Could That Be at This Hour and The Name of This Book is Secret) begin with young boys describing the mysteries they have suddenly found themselves in, Snicket (our hero in the former) forces you to accept some situations in the story without explanation. Right from the beginning you wonder whether the man and the woman with him in the cafe are really his parents or if he is angry with them and disavowing their relationship? But if that were the latter, why would they try to drug him? Why would he have to escape out the bathroom window?
These questions (and more) are answered (albeit only partially) by the end but until then you just accept the situation as it is: Lemony Snicket, having just graduated school is “rescued” from people who may or may not be his parents by S. Theodora Markson, a mysterious woman in a “roadster” who has chosen to be his “Chaperone”. He is her apprentice. While it is not clear what he is apprentice to he nevertheless travels with her to Stain’d-by-the-Sea, a town that he says, “if you asked the right librarian and you get the right map, you can find the small dot of town.”
He and Theodora are there to retrieve a stolen statue of the town’s mascot, the Bombinating Beast. As the story progresses the statue is “stolen” multiple times by multiple parties. “Stolen” is a word that in the story may mean “returning something to its rightful owner that has been borrowed without the owner’s consent.” (This is my imitation of some of the clever writing in the book.)
Who Could That Be at This Hour is an English teacher’s dream. It cleverly introduces new words or in some cases new meanings to old words. For example, early on in the book Theodora reprimands Lemony for interrupting using the word “penchant” which she immediately defines: “Penchant is a word which here means habit.” Later on, when checking into their room at The Lost Arms hotel, Theodora responds, “for the duration,” when asked how long she and Lemony are staying. Lemony quickly explains: “ ‘for the duration’ was a phrase which here means nothing at all.”
Remembering that it is an introduction to a lengthier series of books, helps with getting comfortable with ignoring certain missing pieces that would have made the story a little less of a challenge to start. However, by the last page my children and I were eager to know what happens next.