CM . . . . Volume XX Number 38 . . . . May 30, 2014
True to form, Lemony Snicket's 'chaperone', which here means 'mentor' or 'adult partner', S. Theodora Markson, is anything but helpful. In fact, in this third book in Daniel Handler's series, "All the Wrong Questions", Lemony's chaperone is almost totally absent. That isn't unusual either. Throughout the series, almost all adults in the dying town are absent, and jobs usually done by adults are being done by children. Accordingly, Lemony's status as someone who is able to help people solve mysteries has spread to such an extent that Stain'd-by-the-Sea's residents now seek him out when they have a problem they can't solve. Even the Mitchums, the town's only police persons, turn to Lemony to help them solve a case Lemony concludes as 'Very Obvious', which the solution is.
Most readers will find the solutions to many of the "13 Suspicious Incidents" included in this book fairly obvious. But as always in the 'almost-13-year-old' sleuth's world, bigger mysteries continue to boil below the surface. And while Lemony's adept at solving problems the citizens of Stain'd-by-the-Sea seek his help with, and while he's given a decent report by a 'spy' presumably sent by the aforementioned 'secret organization' to test his progress as an apprentice, the bigger questions and solutions continue to elude and to trouble the boy.
That question Lemony avoids answering, for now.
In the ominous murk of the deeper problems in which Lemony Snicket remains mired, what surfaces for readers here, along with solutions to the 13 incidents, are more glimpses of the town via Seth's sophisticated, detailed drawings, this time rendered in black and white, as reports filed from the field regarding cases would be. The resourcefulness and abilities of children left guarding their parents' homes and running their businesses while the parents are off doing something else somewhere else, or are present but unaccounted for, may be accounted for as in the cases of a small boy's very abusive father, a girl's father who refuses to allow his daughter to read, and Snicket's associate and friend, reporter Moxie Mallahan's father who is too ill to be involved in anything Moxie does. Questions about issues such as the homeless who gather in a camp at the edge of town—as the homeless do in most towns—and what happened to the Yamgraz, the shellfishing people who inhabited the place before others came in fishing boats, ink was discovered, the railway that started transporting oysters to the city for fancy parties arrived, and the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea was established, also come up. And more questions are raised about the issues Lemony has been facing all along and with which he struggles.
The format of this book, with its separate incidents and conclusions filed separately at the back of the book in Sub-file B (along with conclusions for which no cases are provided), renders it much slower-paced than either the first or second books in the series. Readers will likely dip into Handler's File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents a few incidents at a time, perhaps at bedtime. Such reading gives a lot of time for thought, but it does put some distance between the reader and the able and highly moral, if sometimes confused, central character. That said, a lot of novels are read this way, and perhaps the format here simply encourages the reader to more easily set the book aside when it's time for lights out. And to think.
"If you're a librarian," Lemony says, "questions are good for business." They are also, I think, very good for novelists and for the readers of their books.
Jocelyn Reekie is a writer, editor and publisher in Campbell River, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.