“Who Could That Be At This Hour” is the first novel in a quartet of young adult novels by esteemed author Lemony Snicket (David Handler). The “All the Wrong Questions” series is a prequel to Snicket’s standout work, “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which I’d heard of, naturally, but never read: and the chances of me delving into a 13-part narrative is extremely unlikely, regardless of its acclaim. And in fact, when I picked up my copy of “Who Could That Be At This Hour” I had no idea there’d be some overlap into Snicket’s preceding fiction. I was simply enamoured by its opening lines:
“There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a left. I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it. I was almost thirteen and I was wrong. I was wrong about all of it.”
I imagine Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler would be nodding their heads in approval: this is the kind of stripped-down noir-saturated prose I’ve rarely seen in fiction aimed at younger readers.
The plot centres on a mystery, with Lemony Snicket playing the role of lead detective who is apprenticing for the VFD under S. Theodora Markson. In the town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea – a seaside town bizarrely no longer by the sea – a statue has been stolen from the Sallis residence. Theodora and Lemony are tasked with the returning the object to “its rightful owner.” But determining the statue’s rightful owner amidst all the treachery and betrayal, and the looming threat of the enigmatic Hangfire, as well as Snicket’s own furtive machinations, isn’t a simple task.
Of course, this being the first of four, the novel asks more than it answers: but its threads dangle so tantalizingly, you’ll inevitably seek out the other volumes to learn how the story wraps.