The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket

28 Feb

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When we last left the Baudelaire Orphans, they were fleeing from Count Olaf and entering a car with a woman in the back seat who they had never seen before. That woman was Kit Snicket. Kit Snicket, one of the many on the right side of the schism, takes them to The Hotel Dénouement. There, they hope to learn the answers to some of the questions that plague them.

There, treachery is a foot. No one is who they seem to be and lies are a plenty. Kit informs the Orphans that they must rescue the sugar bowl and it’s precious contents before Count Olaf finds it. If he finds the sugar bowl, they are all doomed. How are they to infiltrate the Hotel Denouement, however? Surely they will be recognized? Their picture is in the Daily Punctilio every day, with details of false crimes they have committed.

Kit solves this problem by providing the Orphans with clever disguises. They will dress as concierges so that they can infiltrate the hotel unnoticed. There is a catch, though. They will also be Flaneurs. “Flaneurs,” explains Kit, “are people who quietly observe their surroundings, intruding only when absolutely necessary. Children make excellent flaneurs, as so few people notice them.” In doing this, the Beaudelaire Orphans hope to lend a hand to the V. F. D (The Volunteer Fire Department) and find what treachery may be under their feet.

It will not be easy however; they will have to split up to find out as much information as they can. Every volunteer, good and evil, are meeting at the Hotel Dénouement for that all-important Thursday meeting. And things in the hotel are more than what they seem. Klaus knows not to judge a book by its cover; as well, he knows that every book holds secrets. And The Hotel Dénouement is quite the book.

For instance, why is Esme Squalor on the roof looking into the skies with reverse binoculars? What does she hope to see? Why are Sir and his partner Charles there from the Lucky Smells Lumber Mill? Who is the mysterious person with the initials J. S. that they are hoping to meet? Why is Principal Nero from Prufrock Prepatory School there to meet this same J. S? And what is her fascination with measuring things? Why does she hate Indian food?

All these questions and more are raised as the orphans try to infiltrate the hotel and find out what they can. But whether or not they succeed depends on one man, Frank or Earnest, who may be a friend or foe. Not knowing which side he is working for, the Baudelaire’s put into action plans that may spell their doom, or their freedom….

As with any book in the Series of Unfortunate Events, “The Penultimate Peril” is rollicking great fun. I’ve loved the series since the first book, “The Bad Beginning”, and it’s just gotten better with each installment. New questions are raised at every turn, in every book, and one wonders if the Baudelaire’s will ever find an answer to the questions that plague them.

If you are hoping that the second to last book (Penultimate means “Next to last”) has any answers be warned: Few questions are answered here. We see several, if not all, the supporting characters from all the past books and the plans are treacherous indeed, but few questions are answered. The rest, I’m afraid, are left for the last, and final book, of A Series of Unfortunate Events that came out in October 2006.

That’s not to say that “The Penultimate Peril” is not worth reading. Far from it, in fact. The book adds much to the series’ mystery and gives us enough answers to keep reading and keep guessing. The strength of the series lies in Lemony Snicket’s way of spinning a tale and keep us guessing. The orphans are growing up and are learning some grim things in this installment. To fully appreciate how far they have come, how much they have grown, “The Penultimate Peril” is a must. It may, in fact, hold more answers than we know.

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