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Literature / All the Wrong Questions

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"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 follows him as a twelve year-old boy, working on a series of mysterious cases in the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea.

  • 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.
  • The final book, "Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?" was released on September 29th, 2015.


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."
  • Arc Words: "That's the wrong question."
  • Artistic License – Biology: The Clusterous Forest is made up entirely out of seaweed. Many are surprised that the algae learned to grow on land.
  • Author Appeal: The books are written by Daniel Handler, so naturally there's a lot of Food Porn and complimenting libraries.
  • Batman Gambit: Lemony is good at these. He has an instinctual grasp of people and what they are going to do, especially when it comes to Ellington Feint, such as when he uses tiny clues in her dialogue and behaviour to work out that she has hidden the statue in Black Cat Coffee.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Lemony saves the town and defeats Hangfire. But to do that he feeds Hangfire to the Bombinating Beast, which pisses off Ellington and creeps out Moxie, Stew gets away with murder, and Kit is still in jail which Lemony could have prevented.
  • 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.
  • Bookends: Each book has an illustration at the beginning and end that shows what Kit Snicket is up to.
    • The opening illustration of the first book is the a young girl waiting in a train station. 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 at the beginning and end.
    • And the fourth book has cops carrying her profile to the train at the beginning, and Kit meeting Ellington at the end.
  • 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 Butler Did It: Subverted. He's the mastermind, but he's not really a butler and he didn't do it personally, as Lemony points out.
  • 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. At the end of the last book it's confirmed that Olaf is a member of VFD at this point.
    • 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.
    • Lemony talks about Kit "catching her first bat" (something Beatrice is mentioned as doing in an earlier story) as part of VFD training. In the same paragraph, Snicket references an event he also vaguely alludes to in The Slippery Slope—Jacques encountering a swarm of wasps.
    • As Theodora rants about her past apprentice being so much better behaved, Lemony asks if they should send him a heart-shaped balloon (presumably meaning he's in the hospital because of her incompetence), referring to the Volunteers Fighting Disease passing out heart shaped balloons to sick people in The Hostile Hospital.
    • Beatrice is mentioned by name in the last book.
  • Catchphrase: Several times each book, a character will make a question and another will respond "That's the wrong question"
  • 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.
    • Much of Hangfire's behavior involves animals or plants of some sort. It's hardly surprising he turns out to be a naturalist.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Although a side character, Cleo's father comes across as one, as his efforts to find more Ink for his factory by draining octopi ravage the environment, cause the factory to be dependent on a source which will eventually run out and ruins countless local jobs. Its somewhat mitigated by the implications that the decision was driven by incompetence and desperation, rather than simple greed and callousness, but he remains a negatively portrayed character.
  • Consolation Backfire: Theodora promises to try her best to find Cleo. Snicket notes that that is never a good thing to say, as it'll immediately cause people to expect you'll do the opposite, similar to the statement "I will try to not hit you with this shovel".
  • 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. It's revealed in the final book that he is actually Hangfire himself, but this trope still seems to apply somewhat, as he has apparently all but abandoned Ellington for much of the series.
    • Pip and Squeak's dad is the local taxi driver, and the boys drive for him with the reasoning that he's sick. In the third book, they appear exhausted and very malnourished, suggesting that there's a lot more than that going on. In the last book, Snicket implies that he abandoned them, or perhaps is dead.
  • The Dividual: The Talkie Brothers, Ornette Lost's uncles, and the local firefighters.
  • 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.
  • Exact Words: Lemony promised to help Ellington, and her father. He views feeding him to the Bombinating Beast as doing just that.
  • The Faceless: As per tradition Lemony's face is never seen, not even in the illustrations.
    • Ditto for Hangfire. Subverted at the end, when it turns out Hangfire's face was actually quite familiar, since he was Ellington's father who's picture she carried everywhere.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Parent: Quite a few of them appear, with some being behind one of the titular suspicious incidents in the short story collection.
  • First-Person Smartass: If you take the Lemony Narrator from the original series, age him down to a preteen, thereby removing the large amount of baggage from the previous years, as well as amplifying his snarkiness, and have him narrate in first-person, that’s basically what you’re expected to get.
  • 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.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Moxie gets jealous whenever Snicket brings up Ellington Feint, though it's not clear if it's a Betty and Veronica situation or if she just doesn't like Ellington because she distracts Snicket on what he needs to do.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: In true Snicket fashion, the last book reveals that the series' morality to have been this. Stain'd-By-The-Sea might well have deserved their fate to dwindle and die, since in their desperate and selfish attempts to save themselves they destroyed another town and who knows how much of the environment. And Snicket himself veers sharply towards the edge when he feeds Hangfire towards the Bombinating Beast, right in front of his daughter.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Kellar Haines. during his brief period of being forced to aid Hangfire and his mother. making several failed attempts to clue Lemony in on what's happening.
  • Half-Identical Twins: In 13 Suspicious Incidents, the Cozy twins look alike enough to be mistaken for each other despite being different sexes.
  • 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 Film Noir detective fiction, especially the The Maltese Falcon, which the first books greatly resembles, and whose MacGuffin is constantly referenced the Bombinating Beast statue.
  • House Husband: Mr. Mallahan, while Mrs. Mallahan is off in the city working for their newspaper. The last book implies that they divorced.
  • Ironic Echo: Lampshaded by Lemony when he tells his friends that even the bravest and most resourceful people in the world have come to bad ends. He tells the reader that yes, there's no need to flick the pages back, that is what Theodora said to him earlier.
  • Kindly Vet: Oliver Sobol, from one of the stories in File Under 13 Suspicious Incidents. Considering that he's also pre-teen, and is remaining in town only until his parents (the actual vets) find a new place to live somewhere else, he's also a Closest Thing We Got.
  • 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.
  • Mythology Gag: In the fourth book, Lemony makes a guess that he'll probably grow out of saying 'A word which here means-'.
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man: Dashiell Qwerty, and to a lesser extent Prosper Lost. are the only adults to avert Adults Are Useless on occasion.
  • Painting the Medium: As always, Snicket does this superbly. An example is when, to prove just how irritating Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness is, he fills up an entire page with the synonyms and colloquialisms for "irritating".
  • 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.
    • In the last book, it's confirmed that Moxie's mother did abandon her.
    • And Ellington's father left her to be a villain.
    • And Pip and Squeak's father most likely either abandoned them or died.
  • Parental Favoritism: Sharon Haines. is so desperate to get her daughter out of Hangfire's grasp that she's willing to sell out her son to him.
  • Prince Charmless: Downplayed; Tatiana Cozy isn't very happy at the idea of being engaged to the unseen Baron Von Pendle, but says its because of how little they have in common, and that he's nice enough.
  • 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...
  • Prospector: Marguerite Gracq and her father from the first story in File Under 13 Suspicious Incidents.
  • 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.
  • The Quiet One: The Talkie brothers, Stain'd-by-the-Sea's firemen.
  • The Runaway: The son of the abusive butcher in File Under 13 Suspicious Incidents.
  • 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.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: One of the mysteries in File Under 13 Suspicious Incidents.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Lemony quits V.F.D. (although not permanently if the A Series of Unfortunate Events proper is anything to go by) in Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights?.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Lemony realizes in Book Three that Hangfire is Ellington's supposedly kidnapped father but doesn't say anything to her or the readers.
  • Sequel Hook: Lemony quits V.F.D. and sets out on his own with the statue to take care of some unfinished business.
  • Ship Tease: Between Ellington and Lemony, quite explicit in Shouldn't You Be In School? where Lemony admits that Ellington is probably the only reason he's still in Stain'd-By-The-Sea.
  • 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.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Not in the usual personality sense, but the Talkie Brothers are described as being complete opposites in every physical sense, having "different sizes, shapes, nationalities, facial expressions, hair length, ear sizes, nose shapes, mouth curves, brow furrows, and wristwatches" making it likely that they're an example of Hide Your Gays disguising their relationship due to the laws of the implied time period, that they only share one parent, or that one of them was adopted.
  • Summoning Artifact: The statue of the Bombinating Beast turns out to be this. You blow into it to summon the Bombinating Beast itself, which apparently does your bidding.
  • Title Drop: Subverted, several characters in each book ask the question in the title, but it's always described as "Then (character) asked the question that appears in the cover of this book", so it's never actually printed in the story.
    • In the last book, Lemony asks Stew Mitchum the title of the third book (that being explicitly printed), to which Stew answers "That's an old question".
  • To Be Lawful or Good: "Is it more beastly to be a murderer or to let one go free?" Lemony chooses to feed Hangfire to the Bombinating Beast, and regards it as the only way to help him.
  • Undisclosed Funds: The Bombinating Beast statue is described as being worth "upwards of a great deal of money".
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Subverted. After Ellington betrays Lemony a couple of times, he's still friendly with her and tries to keep his promise, but he openly tells her that he doesn't trust her and that he fully expects her to betray him, an accusation that cuts her quite deeply even though he totally calls it.
  • 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.
    • Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights? gives us two. Hangfire didn't really kidnap Ellington's father... he IS her father. Also, Kit has been a prisoner on the train the entire book.
  • 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 is still loyal to him afterward, because he keeps threatening her family.
    • Lemony fears for a long time that this will be the fate of Ellington. It's not, though at one point in Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights? they do fake it to trick Lemony.


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