'Who Could That Be at This Hour?': Lemony Snicket's new book discusses his childhood

'A Series of Unfortunate Events' author Lemony Snicket's latest book looks back on Snicket's youth.

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    'Who Could That Be at This Hour?' is the first in a planned quartet of books by Lemony Snicket.
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Who is mysterious children’s author Lemony Snicket?

Well, we’re not sure, but we were able to reach Snicket’s representative, writer Daniel Handler, so that’s something.

Snicket’s new book, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” is the first in a planned quartet, titled “All the Wrong Questions.” It will tell the story of Snicket’s childhood and his involvement with a mysterious organization that played an important role in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books.

Snicket is the narrator of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books, telling the tale of the three Baudelaire children – orphans, whose parents die in a mysterious fire at the start of the books and who are then shuttled from guardian to guardian as the children try to learn more about the truth behind the conflagration – even as he frequently hints to readers at his own involvement in the story and warns them to put the book down before even more sad events occur.

(Also, Snicket is actually Handler’s pen name, but go with us on this one.)

In the new book, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” a young Snicket comes under the apprenticeship of a woman named Theodora and tries to solve a mystery centering on the (possible) theft of a statue called the Bombinating Beast in a town known as Stain’d-by-the-Sea.

Handler says reassuringly that Snicket had written the book “definitely of his own free will.”

“It was written before the ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’ books and is only being released now, now that it is safe to do so,” he says.

Snicket joins a strange organization in the book which goes unnamed but which “Series of Unfortunate Event” readers might guess is VFD, a group sometimes known as the Volunteer Fire Brigade to which the Baudelaires’ parents belonged. Handler is coy on the question of whether the groups are one and the same.

“It's safe for you, personally, to assume that,” he says (although he also points out that he will not be around if I later discover that my assumption is wrong).

When “A Series of Unfortunate Events” kicked off in 1999 with “The Bad Beginning,” the books – which had dire warnings not to read them plastered on their back covers – were unlike just about anything else on the market. (“I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant,” begins a letter from Snicket featured on the back of the book.) The series also has plenty of wordplay and literary references, from the Baudelaire children’s temporary guardian Arthur Poe to a young island resident they meet named Friday. Handler says he doesn't worry about language going over children’s heads.

“In my time in the children's book industry, I've heard that children will not understand just about anything,” he says.

Snicket has also written other titles unrelated to the “Series of Unfortunate Events” universe, including “The Composer is Dead,” a children’s mystery set in an orchestra, and three holiday titles, “The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming,” “The Lump of Coal,” and “The Baby in the Manger.” Handler says Snicket chose to set these books during wintertime because of the increased appeal of reading during bad weather.

“During the winter months, people like to escape,” he said. “I probably don't need to tell that to someone with a 617 area code.” (Indeed.)

As for Snicket himself, Handler says that while it had been stated in previous author biographies that the writer was on the run from police, all he can say right now is that Snicket is “still in trouble.”

While actor Jude Law played Snicket in the film adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” Handler says that the only resemblance between the two was that “a lot of people have fantasized that he looks like Jude Law."

Handler says he and Snicket have not discussed future plans beyond the projected next three books in the “All the Wrong Questions” series.

“I prefer not to make commitments too far in advance,” he says. “One of us could get hit by a train tomorrow and it could all be over… but it would certainly make your story more popular.”

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