Friday, December 14, 2012

Who Could That Be At This Hour? (Daniel Handler, 2012)

Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, returns in pseudonymous and character form in a new series, All the Wrong Questions. The first book, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, introduces us to a young Lemony Snicket who is about to set off on his career as the investigator we know him as from A Series of Unfortunate Events. While that original series had a rather Edward Gorey flair to them, this series is firmly in the hardboiled tradition despite its transposition to a young audience. Much of the same character of ASoUE that made those books so readable is to be found here. Handler's clever prose, use of obscure references, and child-friendly disdain for adults is present.

At its heart, the book is much like seeing how Raymond Chandler might have written Dashiell Hammett's The Maletese Falcon. The story involves the theft, recovery, and covetting of an ancient statue. However, Snicket has more of Phillip Marlowe's moral compass, perhaps. Sam Spade certainly has a strong moral compass, but he fools us all until the end. Marlowe wears his on his sleeve, as does Snicket. On a recent interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, Handler says he got started with a "random" Raymond Chandler book, but also acknowledged that the scene which introduces the statue theft is directly influenced by the Joel Cairo/Sam Spade initial meeting in The Maltese Falcon.

I found this to be every bit as much fun as the ASoUE books, and did not smack of being related, save that we know Snicket to be the investigator in both. It is a fun, clever read that I think hardboiled fiction fans will find a bit refreshing. Handler does not shy away from moral questions (or perhaps "ethical" is the better term) when writing for children. The sex and violence are at a minimum, though violence is often the one to rear its head. We all know it is part of life, and telling kids otherwise is foolish. I look forward to the further episodes, and hope he cranks them out as rapidly as the others.

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