Book Review of Who Could That Be At This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket

Who Could That Be At This Hour? is the first book in a 4 book series called All the Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket, author of the Series of Unfortunate Events (I reviewed the first book, The Bad Beginning here). What My Kids Read Book Review of "Who Could That Be At This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket. First book in "All the Wrong Questions" series.

It is written from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy who is learning to be a detective of some kind. You are not given all the details, and as the book progresses, you realize that you know less about the story than you thought you did. It is written in that gumshoe manner, where you only know what the main character observes and thinks.

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“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” (All the Wrong Questions) was a funny book to read, but it ends without a satisfying conclusion, obviously leaving you wanting to read the next book to find answers to all the questions you wanted answered. Thankfully, the next book is already out: “When Did You See Her Last?” (All the Wrong Questions), and the third book should be published early next year.

There are several times throughout the book when the main character sums up a well-known book without saying what the book is. I personally found those summaries genuinely funny – probably because it was the opposite of what I do here! A girl sums up The Lord of the Rings like this “A bunch of elves and things get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but nobody can wear.” Or the summary of Charlotte’s Web “a true friend and a good writer who lived on a bloodthirsty farm where nearly everyone was in danger of some sort.”

Parents should be aware that, as with all Lemony Snicket books, Who Could That Be At This Hour? relies heavily on sarcasm. The main character, almost 13-year-old Lemony Snicket, is without parents (it does not say if they are alive or dead), and all adults seem to be inept at solving the problems he faces. There is violence, but it is on par with the Series of Unfortunate Events, not terribly realistic and slightly funny.

The message of this book is that asking the right question makes everything easier.

My Mom-Meter gives Who Could That Be At This Hour? an overall safety rating of 1 (Safe) for ages 8 and up.

Click here to skip to Liam’s review of this book

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsSafe - no actual four-letter words

BullyingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Disrespectful AttitudesModerately Safe

GamblingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Gross BehaviorSafe - no actual four-letter words

LanguageSafe - no actual four-letter words

Magic/SupernaturalSafe - no actual four-letter words

MoralityModerately Safe

Romance/SexSafe - no actual four-letter words

Scary ThemesModerately Safe

ViolenceSafe - no actual four-letter words

 

Plot summary of Who Could That Be At This Hour?: ***Contains Spoilers***

I found a good plot summary at Wikipedia.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Who Could That Be At This Hour?:

  • The “father” agent at the tea shop says “{Lemony Snicket is] almost thirteen. It’s a difficult age.” You might want to talk with your kids about what you expect and hope for as they become teenagers. Is it a difficult age? What should they expect?
  • “Knowing that something is wrong and doing it anyway happens very often in life, and I doubt I will ever know why.” Is this a true statement?
  • Snicket mentions several times how much of a burden a promise is. Do you feel that way about promises? Why does Snicket feel that way? Doyou think it is because he values his word more or less than S. Theodora does?
  • Snicket says often that it is important not to ask the wrong questions. Is it important to ask the “right questions?” What are right questions to ask? Can you think of “wrong questions?”
  • “When two married adult start to argue, it can last for hours, if not days, and the only way you stop it is to interrupt them.” You might want to talk about what your family believes is acceptable behavior in marriage and within a family.
  • Moxie says “Adults never tell children anything.” Lemony Snicket replies “Children never tell adults anything either… The children of this world and the adults of this world are in entirely separate boats and only drift near each other when we need a ride from someone or when someone needs us to wash our hands.” Do you agree with this statement? Is that the way adults and children should interact?
  • “Scolding must be very, very fun, otherwise children would be allowed to do it.” What is scolding? Why do adult scold? 
  • Lemony Snicket tells Ellington, “Your father has fallen into wicked hand, but it is not necessary to be wicked ourselves.” Do you think that it was necessary to be wicked? Is it ever necessary to be wicked to fight evil?
  • Lemony tells Ellington “My parents can’t help me… they’re helpless.” We don’t know what has happened to Snicket’s family, but do you ever feel like you alone have to make decisions and save the day? Do you ever feel like all the adults in your life are helpless? When have you felt that way?

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • Lemony Snicket finds out that his tea had been drugged with laudanum, an “opiate,” “medicament,” or a “sleeping draught.”
  • The ink drills are compared to a “hypodermic needle for a giant.”

Bullying:

  • There is a bully called Stew who is the son of the police. He tries to hit Lemony Snicket with a rock from his slingshot in the library. Everyone knows he is a bully except his parents, who are convinced that he is wonderful and brilliant.
  • “Stew was waiting for us with a sleepy yawn and a cruel smile… he reached out his hand and gave me a hard pinch on the arm that [his parents] didn’t see.”

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Lemony Snicket seems like he is treating his parents disrespectfully. Near the end of the book, you learn that those people were not his parents, but other chaperones he could have apprenticed under. They had drugged his tea with laudanum and planned to make his miss his train. His chaperone takes the tea before he can drink it. You are not sure at the end of the book if it was a good thing for him to not be drugged.

Gambling: None

Gross Behavior: None

Language:

  • This book is full of great vocabulary words, but just like other Lemony Snicket books, the words are defined as they are used.
  • Stew uses the word “idiotic” once.
  • S. Theodora Markson uses a “very rude gesture” when silently arguing with Lemony Snicket.
  • “Fools” is used once. “We’re not fools, Lemony Snicket.”

Magic/Supernatural:

  • The ink drills are compared to a “hypodermic needle for a giant.”
  • Throughout the book, a mythical creature called the “Bombinating Beast” is mentioned. It was a symbol of the town’s newspaper, supposedly half horse and half shark, or half alligator and half bear. It lurked in the waters, “had an appetite for human flesh,” buzzes when looking or prey. “Lady Mallahan had slain it hundreds of years ago.” “there was a myth about a wizard who held the beast under his power… Mothers still told their children and husbands that the Bombinating Beast would eat them if they did not finish their vegetables.” The Bombinating Beast is mentioned as a popular thing to dress up as for Halloween.
  • Lemony Snicket reads about “the Stain’d witches, who had ink instead of blood in their veins. I wondered what they kept in their pens.”
  • Lemony Snicket says “You know when someone tells you there is a monster under the bed… And you know, there is no such thing, but you just have to check under the bed anyway.”
  • Ellington described The Lord of the Rings as “A bunch of elves and things get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but nobody can wear.” Lemony Snicket responds “There’s always a wizard who’s very powerful but not very helpful.”

Morality:

  • S. Theodora and Lemony Snicket are hired to steal something back for the “rightful owner.” Snicket has troubles with this morality and warns Moxie that they will be stealing something she doesn’t seem to care about.

Potentially Offensive Behavior:

  • Moxie’s mother left for a job in the city and it is hinted that she has not contacted her family to join her. Moxie looks as if she had cried too long, and her father seems depressed and is n his bathrobe or sleeping throughout the book.
  • Lemony Snicket has to share a room at the hotel, Without Arms, with his female chaperone, S. Theodora Markson. He spends most of his time at the library or out trying to solve the case.
  • Two small kids, Pip and Squeak, drive their father’s taxi while he is sick. Pip sits on a stack of books and steers, and Squeak works the pedals.

Romance/Sex:

  • At the hotel Lemony stays at, Without Arms, there is a statue of a woman “who wore no clothes and had no arms.”
  • The phrase “hanky panky” is used once when the police officers find Lemony at Ellington’s hut late at night. Not defined or described as anything specific. (nothing has happened or has even been hinted at)
  • There are very mild hints that Lemony likes Ellington.
  • Stew starts singing a song about Lemony Snicket and Ellington sitting in a tree.

Scary Themes: 

  • Lemony Snicket is told that someone is watching him and S. Theodora.
  • Ellington is told that she will never see her father again unless she delivers the Bombinating Beast.
  • Moxie and Lemony Snicket hear screaming coming from the mansion. It turns out to be Dame Sally Murphy, a famous actress, who was impersonating Mrs. Murphy Sallis. She had been blindfolded and was floating, close to drowning, as the basement flooded. The children rescue her just in time, but all she says is that “he” did it to her.
  • Lemony Snicket finds S. Theodora Markson screaming through a handkerchief tied around her mouth. she had been tied up, and the man had told her he would kill her. “He’s going to kill us both, Snicket, if he doesn’t get his hands on the statue.”

Violence:

  • “I had not be raised by people who raised their hands to me, so I had not yet learned that with some people if you say the wrong thing at the wrong time, you will be hit.”
  • S. Theodora nearly slaps Lemony Snicket, but he gets a phone call before she does.

From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “I really enjoyed Who Could That Be At This Hour?. It was a lot like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” except more excitement and more realistic. The mystery made sense. Before I knew it was a series, the ending was very abrupt, but it’s very good for the first book of a series. Fans of Lemony Snicket or The Invention of Hugo Cabret will like this book”

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“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” (All the Wrong Questions)

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Comments

  1. I read the first book or two in the other series and I found I don’t enjoy the sarcasm. My 13 year old son read the 1st book as well and same experience. It wasn’t offensive but we did not enjoy it.

    • Jennifer,
      I’m so glad you mentioned that! I totally understand what you’re talking about in The Series of Unfortunate Events. It is actually a frequent topic in an ongoing discussion my husband and I have. Our oldest loves sarcastic books (Calvin and Hobbes is also a huge favorite), and I did when I was his age, but we want to make sure he has a balance of other forms of wit and humor. This new series isn’t quite as sarcastic, but this first book also didn’t feel quite as complete as the other series – probably because the ending was so abrupt. Definitely an acquired taste.

  2. I haven’t read this one, but I’ll offer the opinion that sarcasm, like internet humor, doesn’t always work through the medium of printed words without the added nuance of the spoken word. Inflection, vocal rhythm, pacing, etc, all temper the printed word into something witty and sophisticated; young children who take things very literally just don’t get sarcasm as well, I don’t think. To really get sarcasm a child needs to understand subtext and double meaning, and for many their thinking just isn’t developed to that point yet.

    Anyway, it looks like I may need to add this book to my wish list, it sounds like a hoot.

    • Good point, Steve. Sarcasm can be difficult for small children to understand – and it is the lowest form of humor anyway, so I often wonder if I should be introducing it to my kids before middle school.
      But, so far, one of our kids has inherited my love of subversive humor, and it’s hard to resist sharing that enjoyment with him, so I tend to screen a lot of those kind of books. :)

  3. Subversive humor rules! But I don’t agree that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor. Like everything, it’s all in how it’s done, and sarcasm done with intelligence and style is quite sophisticated. On the contrary, I’m of the opinion that the lowest form of humor is the stuff generated by 13 year-old boys in middle school locker rooms, but hopefully you wouldn’t know anything about that.

So what do you think?

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