WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket
Type: Adventure, Children’s
Basic Plot: Lemony Snicket writes about a particular time during his childhood. It involves him going to a near abandoned town, trying to figure out what’s really going on.
Plot: 4/5 Well Done: A prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events, Who Could That Be at This Hour? is again a darkly funny, exciting book that will be a memorable adventure for children and teenagers of all ages. The plot is similar to the later books in ASUE, characters filled to the brim with quirks all fighting for an object that has some unknown worth. Despite a plot that may be a bit familiar to readers of the series, the characters and scenery make up for any potential feelings of boredom.
Writing Style and Setup: 4½/5 Amazing: Lemony Snicket’s style has blossomed from the days of ASUE. He is less wordy in these books, but still speaks in a clever, charming manner that grasps the readers mind with a forcible attraction.
The book moves at a perfect pace. It has a clear opening and ending and has little in between content that was boring. Often books in series have content that is dull that was clearly put there to lengthen the book. Rather than adding scenes, Mr. Snicket has carefully included characters that build on each other in meaningful scenes. This is the kind of content classics are built on.
Moral: 1½/5 No Clear Moral, with Some Negative Undertones: The moral of the series is so far ambiguous. There seems to be no true moral. Outside of this, there are some negative undertones, mainly Your Parents are Dumb and Your Neighbor is Evil. As in most of his books, adults are shown to be stupid, evil, or weak. Children are practically running the town Snicket is staying in, and Snicket says that adults and children live in totally different worlds. Characters also seem to believe the ends justify the means. Snicket and a woman plan to rob a woman to “steal back” something that was stolen, though Snicket does not really want to do it. (Though not for moral reasons.)
On a more positive note, Snicket is frequently shown to hold promises in high regard and hates to make them because of this. This moral is a biblical one that I was happy to see.
Overall: 4/5 Well Done: Despite the lacking moral, Who Could It Be at This Hour? did not disappoint. It was the kind of clever, humorous, exciting story I would expect from Lemony Snicket. I recommended it to children and teenagers between twelve and sixteen.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 2/5 Brief Mention: A naked statue of a woman is referred to and seen by a boy. There is no picture of it shown in the book. A boy is accused of “hanky-panky” because he was at a girl’s house, alone with her. A boy teases a boy and girl that they like each other and is said to have sung the song about “sitting in a tree.” The lyrics are not mentioned.
Violence: 2/5 Brief, Light Violence: A boy throws a rock at another boy but misses. He talks about hitting birds with rocks, and a picture shows him aiming at one. A boy pinches another boy. A girl digs her nails into a boy. A woman nearly slaps a child, who mentions he was not used to such behavior. Later, he briefly worries that she will try to again, but she doesn’t. It is mentioned that a woman once killed a creature called the Bombinating Beast.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 0/5 None
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2/5 Some Scary Content: Some characters hear a woman screaming and search a house looking for her as she screams. A woman is discovered in a basement, tied up and nearly drowned; she is saved. A picture of this is shown. A boy finds a woman tied up on her bed, screaming, and he unties her. She says that he “threatened to kill” her, and that they will “both” die if they don’t do what he says. She then cries from fear. It is mentioned that a girl looked like she had once cried a long time, turning her eyes from black to grey. Some people attempt and fail to drug and kidnap Snicket. A woman supposedly killed a Bombinating Beast, but one person thinks she merely discovered a dead walrus. A legend mentions that the Bombinating Beast ate humans, and it is mentioned that women told their families it “would eat them if they did not finish their vegetables.” A boy has a scab, possibly from his brother poking him. “Slapped” is used for descriptive purposes.
Religious Issues: 1/5 Mentions of Mythology: The book focuses around a statue of a “mythical” creature called the Bombinating Beast. Besides the statute, there are several items of it, one company having made it their theme. A boy reads a book called Stain’d Myths from the Mythology section at the library to learn about legends concerning the Bombinating Beast. He reads various stories about them, which are briefly detailed. It is mentioned that “locals dressed up as the Bombinating Beast on Halloween and Purim.” “Ghost: is used for descriptive purposes.
Magic: ½/5 Brief Mention: A book briefly mentions a myth about witches who had ink instead of blood. It briefly mentions that a wizard is rumored to once have controlled an animal. There is mention to The Lord of the Rings, though not by title. They mention the elves, useless wizards (and their presence in literature in general), and the chasing of the ring.
Others: Tap dancing is briefly mentioned twice. A grown woman claims once that a thirteen year old boy is her husband and that they are honeymooning, but she is lying. The Wind in the Willows and The There are references to other books that are not mentioned by title, such as The Lord of the Rings and Little House in the Big Woods. There is an indirect reference to the jazz musician Duke Elligton, mentioning a book in a Music section of a library named after one of his songs and a key character who likes that kind of music is named Elligton.
Overall: 2/5 Child Appropriate: Some of the intense moments may be a little spooky for young children, but overall, I would recommend this book morally to children ten to twelve and older, depending on the child. The worst thing outside of the intense moments is probably the mythical history of the Bombinating Beast and the naked statue.