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Book Review

This mystery adventure by Lemony Snicket is the first in the " All the Wrong Questions" series published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group Inc.

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" was written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

At nearly 13, Lemony Snicket graduates from a mysterious spy program and begins his internship. Following instructions from his new chaperone, S. Theodora Markson, he sneaks out a teashop window and meets her. Markson, wild-haired and testy, drives them out of the city in her battered roadster. They intend to work in Stain'd-by-the-Sea, a small town once entirely underwater that now survives by extracting and selling octopus ink.

Snicket and Markson meet with their client, an elderly woman named Mrs. Murphy Sallis, at her mansion. She tells them someone has stolen a precious statue and makes the duo promise to return it to its rightful owner. The figurine depicts a mythical creature of town lore called the Bombinating Beast, which bears characteristics of a sea horse, a hawk and a chicken. Mrs. Sallis claims a family named Mallahan, who lives in a lighthouse up the road, has taken the statue.

At the lighthouse, Snicket meets a girl with a typewriter named Moxie Mallahan. Moxie's parents, both former reporters, ran the local paper. She says it's in her blood to carry on the journalistic tradition. She shows him the statue he's looking for, along with numerous other Bombinating Beast items that have long been in her family.

As Markson continues to develop outlandish theories about how the Mallahans stole the statue, Snicket begins to wonder if there's much truth to Mrs. Sallis' story. As he investigates, he meets a handful of quirky and interesting locals including the young, leather-clad town librarian, two children who drive their father's taxi for tips, a married police officer team and a mysterious girl named Ellington, who begs him to help her find her father.

Moxie helps Snicket acquire the Bombinating Beast, which changes hands several times before the close of the story. Moxie and Snicket find Mrs. Sallis tied up and nearly drowned in the mansion basement. Moxie recognizes she isn't Mrs. Sallis, and they learn she's a local actress posing as the wealthy woman.

Through Snicket's investigation, he learns of a villain named Hangfire who seems to be behind the Sallis fiasco and Ellington's father's disappearance. Hangfire is skilled at fooling his victims by imitating others' voices, and for reasons unknown to Snicket, he is after the Bombinating Beast statue. The book ends with Snicket pondering even more questions than he started with, paving the way for the next book in the "All the Wrong Questions" series.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Snicket briefly mentions reading a chapter in a library book about witches in Stain'd-by-the-Sea who have ink in their veins instead of blood.

Authority Roles

S. Theodora Markson is the organization's lowest ranked mentor; Snicket chooses to intern with her so he can work more independently. Markson is inept at her job and typically asks the wrong questions, while frequently lecturing Snicket. Other adults, such as the town's married police couple, are also bumbling and clueless. Snicket appears at the beginning of the story with parents he later reveals aren't his real mom and dad. He allows himself only a moment to miss his real parents. He tells Ellington his parents are helpless and can't help him.





Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Why does Snicket feel as though promises are a heavy burden?
  • When have you had a difficult time keeping a promise?
  • Why is it important to keep promises?

  • What is the significance of asking questions in this book?

  • Who asks the right questions, and who fails to do so?
  • How can you ask good, useful questions?

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Lemony Snicket






Record Label



Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group Inc.


On Video

Year Published




We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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