CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 14. . . .December 6, 2013
In volume two of Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket’s “All the Wrong Questions” series, our 13-year-old apprentice detective is faced with solving the mystery of another disappearance while he continues to search for answers to several mysteries introduced in Who Could That Be at This Hour?, the series’ opening volume: a girl named Ellington Feint, her kidnapped father, the statue of the Bombinating Beast and a villain named Hangfire all remain parts of the jigsaw puzzle—each of us parts of the same big picture—that had brought Lemony Snicket and his chaperone, S. Theordora Markson, to the town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea in the first place.
New to the picture is a brilliant young scientist named Miss Cleo Knight. Miss Knight is the only child of parents who inherited Ink Inc. from Cleo’s grandmother, Ingrid Nummet Knight, who had discovered how to make the darkest ink, taken from octopi, which industry turned Stain’d-by-the-Sea into a thriving town and the Knights into its wealthiest citizens. Now, however, the octupi are on the verge of extinction, the town is dying, and Miss Knight, who inherited her grandmother’s brilliant scientific mind, has been working to develop an invisible ink that will revive the industry and put the town back on the map. But Miss Knight has gone missing, and Dr. Flammarion is injecting her parents regularly with a drug he says is called Beekabackabooka, but it is really Laudanum, a substance that induces an almost coma-like state in its recipients. All in all, a nasty situation that leads Lemony into ever more dangerous circumstances as he strives to find answers to difficult questions.
And once again, the adults in the town, in this case: Polly Partial—owner of Partial Foods; Mr. Bellerophon, owner of the town’s only taxi service; Mr. and Mrs. Knight; Harvey and Mimi Mitchum, the town police; Prosper Lost—owner of the Lost Arms, where Lemony and his chaperone are staying; Zada and Zora, twins who are servants to the Knights; Colonel Colophon, Ingrid Nummet Knight’s old business partner; and retired newspaper man, Mr. Mallhan, are of no help at all, while other adults, Dr. Flammarion; his nurse, Nurse Dander, who is good with a knife; S. Theodora Markson, and the infamous Hangfire, more than hinder Lemony’s success.
Fortunately, girl-journalist Moxie Mallahan and the Bellerophon brothers, Pip and Squeak, are still around to help; Ellington Feint resurfaces, and Lemony comes across Jake Hix, a young dishwasher-cook who not only serves up delicious food free of charge, likes the same books Snicket likes, but is also more than simply acquainted with Cleo Knight—a fact that proves vital down the road. Thus the army of children fighting for right expands, much in the sense of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.
At the same time, a mystery that is developing far away in the city, in which Lemony’s sister, Kit, is the main character, deepens when she is discovered trying to break into a museum to retrieve…something apparently important. Perhaps we’ll find out in volume three what that item is. The crux of that story in this volume is that Kit is discovered and now faces being sent to prison, a fact that causes Lemony great sadness and concern. The only thing Lemony has to hang onto with regard to his sister’s dilemma, and the state of the world he’s found himself in, is a saying he and his child-apprentice colleagues learned from one of their associates: “No reality has the power to dispel a dream,” which here means that no matter what happens in the world, you can keep thinking about something, particularly if it’s something you like.
The saying will resonate with many, but overall, readers may find When Did You See Her Last? has a more sinister, less hopeful feel to it than did volume one of Handler’s series. While the power of children to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions to problems is mighty, a world in which no adult ever takes care of or is able to help the children in their custody, and many adults are downright threats to the children’s welfare, is a very sad world. Some readers may also find the many references thrown in regarding books Lemony has read weighty enough to be annoying as the references don’t seem to have any real connection to the mysteries or the solving of them and, therefore, feel gratuitous.
That said, this second volume of the series contains the same kind of clever twists and turns and the same wit that made Who Could That Be at This Hour? an exciting read. And readers will find themselves drawn ever deeper into the stories of the compelling characters.
Likewise, Seth’s intricate illustrations are once again clever and informative, and heighten readers’ interest in both the characters and the landscape.
So, on goes Handler’s “first authorized autobiographical account of Lemony Snicket’s childhood”, and this reader is already anxious to read volume 3.
Jocelyn Reekie is a writer, editor and publisher in Campbell River, BC.
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