Friday, 22 November 2013

When did you see her last?

When did you see her last? by Lemony Snicket, Art by Seth (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978 1 74297 297 8
HB $16.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This is the second book in the middle readers series All the Wrong Questions. When did you see her last? gives just a brief summary of what came before, then launches into action. In the almost abandoned town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea a girl (and brilliant chemist) called Cleo Knight has gone missing. With the help of Moxie, teenage journalist, and the hindrance of his chaperone, S. Thoedora Markson, thirteen year old Lemony Snicket sets out to discover what has really happened.

Lemony Snicket's distinctive voice is planted firmly inside the character's head, sometimes in the form of stream of consciousness, other times explaining in dictionary detail what more complicated words mean. Behind it all is the rather black, tongue in cheek humour, also present in the Series of Unfortunate Events, which makes you laugh out loud while reading. Characters say delightfully unexpected things such as: '...Nothing wrong with leaving a guy all alone in a dangerous place. Maybe on our way into town we can find a puppy to run over because we're such nice guys.'

Quirky characters abound. My favourites are Mimi and Harvey Mitchum, the husband and wife police team who can't stop arguing, and their son Stewie the police siren. Nurse Dander and Doctor Flammarion also make excellent bad guys. The illustrations, suitably retro and in various shades of purple and black, effectively add atmosphere to the story. The end papers of the book are covered in squids, such as those which supply the ink for 'Ink Inc', the largest company in Stain'd-By-The-Sea.
The plot goes by at a sizzling pace with twists and turns and as a result, is sometimes a little confusing. Only part of the mystery is solved in this book, as there are longer running ones through the series. There's the beautiful but possibly untrustworthy Ellington Feint, a man called Hangfire with an evil plan and most of all, just who is Lemony Snicket?  Hints are dropped and the reader is left with more questions at the end of the book than at the beginning, despite the case being cracked and the missing girl found. The only solution is to wait for the next book and read on.

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