~ A Book Review: When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket ~

Posted: May 19, 2022 in book review, Book reviewing, books, children's writing, Fantasy fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Story, Writing
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I have finished reading my eighth novel for 2022, When Did You See Her Last? The second book in the All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket. The premise of this series has the author writing himself as a kid detective, up against the baddie, Hangfire, both seeking a strange statue, the Bombinating Beast. Throw in a missing father and a missing girl, and you have the basic storyline of When Did you See Her Last?

A girl has gone missing, the Ink Inc. heiress and genius chemist Chloe Knight. Apprentice detective Lemony Snicket, and his incompetent chaperone S. Theodora Markson take on the case. The tale is set in a town that flourished because of ink, aptly named Stain’d-by-the-Sea. The town is becoming deserted because it has run out of squid. It is rumoured Chloe Knight has created a new type of ink that would reverse the fortunes of the dying town. Snicket has to find out more about a strange group called The Inhumane Society. He must piece together the clues surrounding Chloe’s disappearance and hopefully rescue the girl with a lot of hijinks along the way.
Snicket stories tend to cruise along the edge of the ridiculous, bringing to mind other such stars of the genre, like David Walliams and Anthony Horowitz. As always, in When Did you See Her Last? Snicket likes to have fun with words. “A laugh is harder to swallow whole than a honeydew melon. Her mouth twisted every which way, and her eyes flitted madly as she looked everywhere but at me…We waited until it was safe to open up the laugh, and then we shared it.”

It takes guts to do that.
I liked it when the author wove into the story references to classic books the Lemony Snicket character had read without giving us the actual title. However, this device relied on the reader having read all those children’s books. As an adult, I thought it was clever, but it occurred to me that all these finger-on-the-nose references would go over the head of the modern child reader.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the author speaking directly to the reader, yet, it’s a device Snicket uses a lot. The ‘breaking down of the fourth wall’ is a technique some people love. I read an interview with Neil Gaiman last week, in which Neil said the books he had read as a child wherein the author spoke directly to the reader made him feel all warm and cozy inside. So when he started writing his books, he used the same technique.

I find the author’s voice an intrusion. It breaks the spell holding me, which I find jarring. It does not add any warmth but provides a reminder of the puppeteer pulling the ropes.
“No matter how many slow and complicated mysteries I encounter in my life, I still hope that one day a slow and complicated mystery will be solved quickly and simply. An associate of mine calls this feeling “the triumph of hope over experience”, which simply means that it’s never going to happen, and that is what happened then.” ~ When Did you See Her Last?
I guess author intrusion comes down to a matter of personal taste. Snicket is a popular author so it obviously works for him.
Lemony Snicket is the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler (February 28, 1970). The author of several children’s books, including A Series of Unfortunate Events. This series has sold over 60 million copies and was made into a film and TV series. Lemony Snicket serves as both the fictional narrator and a character in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as the main character in its prequel, the four-part book series titled All the Wrong Questions.

Ever wondered how Daniel chose that pen name? It originally came from research for Handler’s first book The Basic Eight. Handler told NPR that “the character of Lemony Snicket, this man who speaks directly to the reader and is tangentially involved in the stories that he’s telling is more of a character. We just thought it would be fun to publish the books under the name of this character.”
Essentially it works. Book sales speak volumes. I think the concept is cool, and the pen name is different. The panache is there. The idea of the pessimistic protagonist is an excellent twist. Snicket knows how to spin a web and layer in the questions, whether wrong or not, to keep the reader guessing the answers until the end.

Purely from the point of view of personal taste, When Did you See Her Last? is not my favourite kids’ book. But then it’s not my least. Farcical noir is not a genre I would seek to read for pleasure.

My rating: Two stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol

“Being curious is the most important part of being a journalist. It might be the most important part of being anything.” ― Lemony Snicket, When Did You See Her Last?


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  1. Interesting review

    Liked by 1 person

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