Mysteries abound in Lemony Snicket's new All the Wrong Questions series

Published: Saturday, Nov. 3 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

When he was young, Daniel Handler didn’t just want to be a detective.

“It’s not so much that I wanted to be a detective as much as I decided I was one,” said Handler, an author who writes under the pen name Lemony Snicket.

And the cases he investigated were “the mysteries of growing up and the mysteries of the adult world,” he said in a phone interview from his home in San Francisco. “They felt to me to be the type of mystery the Mrs. Marple, Phillip Marlowe or Encyclopedia Brown would solve.”

He was the most curious about his parents.

“I tried to eavesdrop on them. They weren’t mysterious to other adults, but they were mysterious to me.”

Thirteen-year-old Lemony Snicket works to solve a mystery in “Who Could That Be At This Hour?” (Little, Brown and Company, $15.99), which is the first in the new four-book series, All the Wrong Questions. Lemony is an apprentice to S. Theodora Markson and ends up in a lonely town of Stain'd-by-the Sea.

In addition to being Handler's pen name, Lemony Snicket was an adult character and narrator in A Series of Unfortunate Events. While writing the last few volumes of that series, Handler wanted to explore Lemony’s childhood and apprenticeship in the mysterious V.F.D. and also, he became interested in noir novels.

“I thought if I did write another series, I would write a series that would be to noir novels, what A Series of Unfortunate Events was to gothic novels,” Handler said.

“Who Could That Be At This Hour” is written from Lemony’s perspective as a 13-year-old, and Handler captures that nicely.

“I think at that age, you have a certain amount of autonomy, but don’t have access to the adult world,” said Handler, who has a 9-year-old son. Also, friendships begin to have different meanings.

And young Lemony does look at his questions and those of his chaperone and assesses them.

“Asking questions is like looking for oil or something,” Handler said about his guess on how to ask the right questions. “You tap a few questions and you tap a few more questions and then finally you tap the right questions.

“Then the wealthy stuff from the innards of the story are spraying out for all to see.”

However, getting it right on the first try shouldn’t precisely be expected.

“You have to ask a lot of questions,” Handler added. “(You also have to) come at them from different angles.”

In writing the All the Wrong Questions series, he’s mapped out the plot pretty thoroughly, unlike the outline he had for A Series of Unfortunate Events, where he left room to improvise the details.

“The threads needed to be a little more connective than in A Series of Unfortunate Events and plotted ahead of time,” Handler added of the mystery series.

In the 258-page “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” there are several people who want to get their hands on a statue called the Bombinating Beast, which is about the size of a bottle of milk and has the face of seahorse.

“Each book in the series centers around a specific crime and the crimes get more alarming,” Handler said. Also, books and libraries are important in Lemony’s world and there are many literary references in names and places.

Handler will be in Salt Lake City on Nov. 17 for a book event in conjunction with the release of “Who Could it Be at This Hour?”

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