Bridgette Redman's Reviews > The Penultimate Peril

The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
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Feb 01, 2012

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Read in October, 2006

The End is near for The Series of Unfortunate Events. Book the Twelth uses one of my favorite words to announce that the book is the next to last in Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler’s) delightful series. This not-quite-the-end book is titled The Penultimate Peril.

Other than the delightful use of penultimate, I found myself disappointed in this convoluted story. It lacked the clean plotting of the other novels. Instead, Lemony Snicket indulged in obfuscation, a word which here means bringing in nearly every surviving character in a morass of subplots that kept any one storyline from dominating.

Yes, of course Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire took center stage. However, now they seemed pulled along in a string of events and for most of the book were merely spectators. Everything is happening around them in a final swirling leading up to the end.

They arrive at the Hotel Denouement, escorted there by Kit Snicket, Lemony and Jacques’ sister. She tells them to disguise themselves as concierges at the hotel and to gather some crucial information for VFD. The hotel is supposed to be the final safe meeting place for volunteers, though it rarely feels or looks safe.

Once at the hotel, the siblings must try to discern between the kind-hearted Frank and his identical evil twin Ernest. They’re sent in three different directions, performing errands in a hotel based on the Dewey Decimal system.

Guests in the hotel include a veritable roster of all previous books: Esme Squalor, Carmelita Spats, Geraldine Julienne (the reporter from the Daily Punctilio), Sir, Charles, Vice Principal Nero, Mrs. Bass, Mr. Remora, Hal, Justice Strauss, Jerome Squalor, Count Olaf, Hugo, Collette, Kevin, Mr. Poe, man with a beard but no hair, and the woman with hair but no beard.

Then there are those people who do not appear in the book, but we learn from others what they’re up to: the hook-handed man, Fiona, the Quagmire triplets, and Hector.

Needless to say, that’s a lot of people to keep track of, especially if it’s been years since you’ve read the early novels. However, the children run errands for almost all these people before Count Olaf manages to get them into yet another jam.

While the siblings seemed to be on pretty strong moral ground throughout most of the novels, this installment leaves things a little more ambiguous. They are framed for one crime, but they then go on to perform other actions that are far more difficult to justify. Indeed, it’s no longer clear whether their actions can be considered admirable or merely the best of all possible horrible choices.

In many ways, The Penultimate Peril is a wrap-up book and one hopes that Daniel Handler got all the sub-plots out of the way so that the final book can tie everything up cleanly and with the precision and humor that the earlier books in the series contained.

Regardless, it’s been a wonderful ride with this series and I look forward to next week’s release of The End.

Review originally posted at

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