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“Who Could That be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket

By Mary Quattlebaum,

“WHO COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOUR?”

By Lemony Snicket

Little, Brown. $15.99. Age 9 and up

Just in time for Halloween, renowned trickster Lemony Snicket hands out his latest treat: “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” the first in a planned four-book series called “All the Wrong Questions.” Here, Snicket shifts from the Baudelaire orphans of his deliciously dark “A Series of Unfortunate Events” to the chronicler of their adventures: Snicket himself, almost 13 years old. All this may seem straightforward, except that “Lemony Snicket” is actually the nom de plume of Daniel Handler, who also pens acclaimed YA fiction under his own name, including this year’s Printz Honor-winning “Why We Broke Up.” What we have in Snicket’s tale of boyhood sleuthing is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill) with a dollop of Franz Kafka and a dash of Dashiell Hammett. It’s the sort of goodie savored by brainy kids who love wordplay, puzzles and plots that zing from point A to B by way of the whole alphabet. In a decrepit town close to a “sea without water and a forest without trees,” young Snicket and his “strange, uncombed” mentor have been hired to find a stolen figurine called the Bombinating Beast. Allies, who seem as suspect as enemies, include a leather-jacketed librarian, two taxi-driving tweens and a few troublesome dames his age. This surreal fictional memoir holds a funhouse mirror up to our own world, as the narrator describes a forgotten suit as being like “an empty person” or reflects on children and adults in their “separate boats,” drifting close only “when we need a ride from someone or when someone needs us to wash our hands.”

— Mary Quattlebaum

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