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Literature: All the Wrong Questions

"There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a theft. I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it. I was almost thirteen and I was wrong. I was wrong about all of it. I should have asked the question 'Why would somebody say something was stolen when it was never theirs in the first place?' Instead, I asked the wrong question— four wrong questions, more or less."

All The Wrong Questions is a four-part prequel series to A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is written by Daniel Handler, once again writing as Lemony Snicket. The series concerns him as a thirteen year-old boy, hinted to be working with VFD in a series of mysterious cases. The first book, "Who Could That Be At This Hour?" was released on October 23, 2012. The second book, "When Did You See Her Last?" followed on October 15, 2013. A companion book, File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents — a collection of short mystery stories — was released April 1, 2014. The third book, "Shouldn't You Be In School?" was released on September 30, 2014.


This series provides examples of:

  • Adorably Precocious Child: Every single kid... except Stew Mitchum.
  • Adults Are Useless: As in the previous series, almost every adult is either useless or evil. Discussed by all the children at one point or another.
    "Snicket," Moxie said quietly, "what are we going to do?"
    "Not what everyone’s parents did," I said. "Not nothing."
  • Art Major Biology: The Clusterous Forest is made up entirely out of seaweed. Many are surprised that the algae learned to grow on land.
  • Bad Boss: Lemony is apprenticed to S. Theodora Markson, who yells for Lemony to do things her way but it becomes clear that he's the smarter. Lemony hints at the end that he secretly arranged to have a terrible chaperone for his plan in the city.
  • Batman Gambit: Ellington Feint secretly steals the statue from Lemony and replaces it with a bag of Black Cat brand coffee. Lemony then visits the abandoned Black Cat and there finds the statue hidden in the attic for him.
  • Big Bad: Hangfire, a mysterious man who wants the statue of the Bombinating Beast and is holding Ellington Feint's father for ransom.
  • Blatant Lies: Yes, Theodora, you, a grown woman, and Lemony, a thirteen year-old, could totally pass for husband and wife.
    • Lemony and his associate in the city communicate by sending notes "disguised" as book orders to the library. The fake author and book title combinations tend to be things like Sorry, But I Can Not Meet You At The Fountain or Don T. Worry, I'll Measure It Myself (“Sounds like a math textbook of some kind”). Lemony claims the authors' names are weird because they're Belgian.
  • Book Ends: The opening illustration is that of a young girl waiting in a train station who is later revealed to be Kit Snicket. The last illustration is of her grumpily visiting the unfinished Fountain of Victorious Finance.
    • Book Two continues this trend, with the opening illustration being the same girl trying to open a hatch (with the letters VFD on it, no less) and the end is her getting arrested.
    • As does Book Three, where she is dragged to the police station and photographed.
  • Brick Joke: Upon hearing screaming, Lemony narrates how one can easily track down screaming by drawing nine rows of 14 squares in a piece of paper, then throwing it away and looking for the screamer because there's no time to waste. Later, when Lemony tries to keep Prosper Lost from following him, he tells him to track the sound of Theodora's screams by drawing nine rows of 14 squares.
  • The Bully: Stew Mitchum, a bratty boy who blames all his misdeeds on Lemony and gets away with it because his parents are policemen.
  • The Butler Did It: is the first sentence of the last chapter. It turns out the villain was pretending to be Mrs. Sallis's butler.
  • Call Forward: Being a prequel, the series continues several hints to later unfortunate events.
    • The Fountain of Victorious Finance is being built.
    • Hector from The Vile Village is met in the final chapter as a twelve year old, and is already performing ballooning projects. His liking of Mexican food is also mentioned.
    • Hector reveals at the end that Lemony's associate in the city is his sister Kit Snicket.
    • Dr. Montgomery Montgomery is mentioned.
    • Lemony occasionally expresses fondness for root beer floats, just as he did in The Beatrice Letters.
    • And most significantly, the Great Unknown introduced in The Grim Grotto is hinted to be the Bombinating Beast, a Cthulhu-esque creature that's legendary in the town.
    • Captain Widdershins appears, mentions Gustav (Montgomery's deceased assistant at the start of The Reptile Room) and, like Hector, delivers Lemony some news that he really, really would not rather have heard.
    • Josephine Anwhistle is the associate who shows up at the end of the third book.
    • Graffiti at the Wade Academy mentions Olaf—fitting, as it's a school for the sons of earls and counts.
    • We learn that Theodora's former apprentice was named Bertrand, as in Bertrand Baudelaire. Snicket even jokes that he'll end up married and have charming children.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Sallis butler is heard imitating the calls of birds as he feeds them. As Hangfire, he uses this skill to mimic people's voices.
    • Lemony reads in the newspaper about Dame Sally Murphy, the town's legendary actress. She turns out to still be alive and having been pretending to be Mrs. Sallis.
    • Every time Lemony as the narrator mentions he should have done something different in a scene, that's a good sign that at the moment something suspicious is going on.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Inverted. Lemony failed his lockpicking exam because he threw a rock through a window to get inside instead. He later does this again to drain the water that threatens to drown Sally Murphy.
  • City with No Name: Sort of; the majority of the plot takes places at Stain'd-by-the-Sea, but the city that Lemony came from and often refers to is never named.
  • Cliffhanger: At the last minute the statue is stolen, and the hunt for Hangfire continues. In addition, Lemony has to get back to the city so he can resume work with his sister.
  • Compressed Hair: At one point Theodora somehow manages to get her huge mess of hair under a small helmet.
  • Conflict Ball: Lemony abandons Moxie rather than let her track down Ellington and Hangfire with him.
  • Creepy Child: Stew, of all children, reveals himself to be this in the second book. He has a friend who's good with a knife...
  • Dissimile: It's Lemony Snicket narrating. There are dozens.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ellington Feint's father, who has been kidnapped by Hangfire and held for ransom in exchange for the statue.
  • Doting Parents: The officers Mitchum, who fawn over their bratty son, unaware that he's the one doing all the local vandalism.
  • Dude, Where's My Reward?: Rather than thank them for saving her life, Sally Murphy yells at Lemony and Moxie for asking about who tried to drown her.
  • Dying Town: Stain'd-by-the-Sea, whose main export, ink, is running out. Already the town newspaper and telegraph have closed, and other businesses like the taxi and cafe have to make do on bartering instead of money.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Bombinating Beast, a legendary undersea creature that was said to live by Stain'd-by-the-Sea.
  • The Faceless: As per tradition Lemony's face is never seen, not even in the illustrations.
  • Free-Range Children: Lemony travels with false parents then does detective work on his own. Moxie's dad lounges on the couch while she writes for the town news in hopes of joining her mother in the city. Pip and Squeak's dad is sick so they drive the taxi.
  • Four Is Death: Has four installments, to go with the main series' thirteen. It doesn't have four chapters, however, but the usual thirteen.
  • Gambit Pileup: Theodora wants to be promoted. Lemony wants to get back to the city. The other chaperone candidates want to kidnap him. Ellington wants to save her father. Mrs. Sallis wants the statue of the Bombinating Beast and so does Hangfire. And Moxie wants to become a reporter.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In 13 Suspicious Incidents"There are words for a woman who walks the streets late at night," she said, with another meaningful look. "Words like insomniac." Sure, Snicket. That's exactly the word we were all thinking of.
  • The Ghost:
    • The Bombinating Beast is only referred to but never seen in life. It's not clear if it's dead or myth but if it's the Great Unknown, then it's most certainly neither.
      • A creature that is almost certainly a Bombinating Beast appears in Shouldn't You Be In School?, but a cryptic remark by Ellington suggests it may not be the same Beast that is being hunted for by Hangfire.
    • Hangfire. He only appears once disguised as a quickly ignored butler, then lurks in wait for others to get him the statue.
      • He does show up in person in When Did You See Her Last? but we never see his face.
  • Half-Identical Twins: In 13 Suspicious Incidents, the Cozy twins look alike enough to be mistaken for each other despite being different sexes.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: Ellington Feint.
  • Hero of Another Story: Kit Snicket.
  • Hidden Depths: Quite a few characters have these, both for good and bad. Snicket is surprised to learn that Hungry Hix, the bitter and bad-tempered owner of a diner, is quite a capable cook in her own right and once married a man from Calcutta. Similarly, the slimy Prosper Lost becomes far more endearing when he is anxious over his daughter's safety. And on the flip side, it's chilling how Stew Mitchum quickly turns from the resident bully to the ally of the Big Bad.
  • Homage: While the previous series was heavily inspired off of Gothic literature, this series is a tribute to noir detective fiction, including the plot of the first book resembling The Maltese Falcon.
  • House Husband: Mr. Mallahan, while Mrs. Mallahan is off in the city working for their newspaper.
  • Kid Detective: Young Lemony was one! So is a girl reporter he meets at the town, Moxie.
    • When he's called this in the second book, he corrects the speaker. He is not a detective. His job is not to solve mysteries, it's to poke around and find information for his organization. He specifically calls himself a walking library stack.
  • Lemony Narrator: Even as a boy, Lemony's style continues to be idiosyncratic.
  • Literal-Minded: Pip and Squeak's taxi service can be paid in tips, like "you should really read The Wind in the Willows."
  • MacGuffin: The statue of the Bombinating Beast, which Mrs. Sallis says was stolen from her by the Mallahans. In reality, the statue was the Mallahans's for generations but they consider it to be worthless. Hangfire and the false Mrs. Sallis pretended it was stolen so he could acquire it.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Theodora thinks she's a great teacher who is ranked twelfth on the list of best chaperones. She's actually ranked 52nd.
  • Missing Mom: Moxie's, but she's alive. She works for the newspaper in the city, and Moxie hopes to soon join her.
  • Nice Hat: Moxie sports a bowler.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Stain'd-by-the-Sea is no longer by the sea, though it used to be.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Theodora refuses to listen to Lemony and insists on running things her own way, such as breaking the Mallahans's house to steal the statue, while Lemony tries to tell her that they already gave him the statue for free.
  • Parental Abandonment: Lemony's "parents" at the beginning of the book were just pretending to be his. He mentions several times that his real parents can't help, and Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography implied that they're dead.
  • Private Eye Monologue: Combined with Lemony Narrator. It's an understatement to say that it's weird.
  • The Promise: Lemony really needs to stop promising people things...
  • Punny Name: The two brothers Pip and Squeak, who drive the town taxi while their father is sick.
  • Questioning Title: Each of the books, named after a wrong question Lemony asked at some point in the story.
  • Running Gag: "A word which here means" returns!
    • S. Theodora refuses to tell anyone what the S in her name stands for. But all of her following statements begin with S, such as 'Standing next to me is my apprentice'.
  • Scenery Gorn: The town Lemony is brought to, Stain'd-by-the-Sea, is a former coastal town that literally had the surrounding ocean drained away, leaving an enormous desert filled with sunken boats and mining machinery.
  • Shout-Out: Once again, Lemony Snicket encourages kids to be quite well read, rarely saying what the books' titles are.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: As with The Series of Unfortunate Events, many characters are named after authors and other famous people, especially those associated with Film Noir and Hardboiled Detective stories:
    • Dashiell Qwerty is named after Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, and the QWERTY keyboard layout.
    • At the end of the first installment, there is a mention of someone called Haruki.
    • The Mallahans are named after James M Cainnote .
    • Robert Mitchum, namesake of the Mitchums, was an actor famous as the star of many Noir films.
    • Ellington Feint's namesake is Duke Ellington, composer and pianist. His music is probably the "interesting and complicated" tunes that Lemony hears from the gramophone.
  • Voice Changeling: Hangfire. Many times he uses this ability of his to fool the heroes. And we only ever hear him...
  • Wham Line: In one of his arguments with Lemony in When Did You See Her Last?, Stew mentions having a friend who's good with a knife. Considering one of the villains of that book is repeatedly described the same way, this implies that there is more to Stew than meets the eye.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Dame Sally Murphy is still living in the town, and was hired by Hangfire to play Mrs. Sallis.
  • Wild Hair: Theodora's hair could give Helena Bonham-Carter's a run for her money. And Dashiell Qwerty is said to look like his hair was attacked by a scissors wielding madman.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Hangfire does this to the fake Mrs. Sallis, though Lemony and Moxie save her. She strangely still seems to be loyal to him afterwards.

Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized AutobiographyChildren's LiteratureThe Seventh Tower
All Men of GeniusLiterature of the 2010sAll Yesterdays

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