Lemony Snicket | "I have always asked myself, 'How hard can it be to write a detective novel?' without appreciating how cunningly conceived they are"

Excitement has been building for a new four-book Lemony Snicket series, All The Wrong Questions, that launches in October with the first book, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, published by Egmont Press.

News of the series was first “accidentally” leaked by Snicket himself (aka Daniel Handler) in February when, echoing the PR for the original A Series of Unfortunate Events, he warns readers against reading the books: “These books are questionable and contain questions. I, for one, question why anyone would be interested in reading them.”

The immediately recognisable tone of the PR is indicative of the success and innovation of the original 13-book series which has sold some 60 million copies worldwide. Egmont is rejacketing A Series of Unfortunate Events for the new fans it anticipates on the back of All The Wrong Questions. It expects national press coverage and marketing will include a £75,000 cinema advertising campaign, online advertising and a trailer, posters for libraries and p.o.s. for indies.

All The Wrong Questions is set well before A Series of Unfortunate Events and introduces Lemony Snicket aged 13 years and beginning his first apprenticeship to a rather incompetent detective, S Theodora Markson. His first assignment is to help her solve the theft of a statue, the Bominating Beast. Along the way they uncover the evil intentions of the very noir-ish criminal, Hangfire.

Handler started to plan the new series while he was still writing A Series of Unfortunate Events, which was his take on gothic novels. He says: “At that time, I began to take interest in film noir and writers such as Raymond Chandler and I started to think about Lemony Snicket as a young man participating in a ‘noiry’ world.”

The series is set in Stain’d-by-the-Sea, a faded seaside town reflective of the genre. “So much noir takes place in blue-collared towns at various stages of economic collapse which is tied to the moral collapse of the characters and it felt pregnant with possibilities,” says Handler.

He explains: “Each of the books in the series has a central crime in it; book one is about the theft and the second book is about a kidnapping. The mystery of Ellington Feint and the Bominating Beast crop up in each book until we have the whole picture. While the secret continues to perplex the town until the end, Lemony Snicket himself solves the mystery as soon as he holds the statue. One of the things I like about film noir is that the detective quite often knows more than he tells the viewer.

“Ellington Feint is the ‘femme fatale’ of the series. Since I can’t have her as an agent hanging out at nightclubs, she is instead a girl who will do anything to get her father back (he has been kidnapped by Hangfire) and she turns out to be quite treacherous while Lemony Snicket wants to keep to the right side of things.

“With A Series of Unfortunate Events I could make a number of improvisations as I wrote but this entire series had to be conceived before I started writing book one. It has made me take my hat off to all detective writers. I have always asked myself, ‘How hard can it be to write a detective novel?’ without appreciating how cunningly conceived they are.

“Revisiting the author Lemony Snicket has been both harder and easier than writing it the first time around. I definitely felt challenged to feel I wasn’t repeating myself, but also there’s something about writing as Snicket that comes naturally to me so it was nice to do that for the first time in a while.

“Also children’s literature has changed so much in the past decade. Lemony Snicket was innovative when it was published but children’s literature has become much more fun and complex and so I had to approach this series differently.

“The books will each end on a cliffhanger and I hope that readers will be mystified and intrigued by that, rather than annoyed and repulsed, as the idea of series has changed. Twenty years ago the books in a series had the same characters but no continuity, they could be read in any order. Now readers know they are reading something that continues and that they will be left in suspense —series like His Dark Materials and Harry Potter introduced that idea more concretely.

“All The Wrong Questions will be both a detective story and a story of Lemony Snicket’s development as a person. I think that all good children’s books are the arc of childhood writ large. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the children are trying to work out why the world is as wicked as it is and in this series, Lemony Snicket is trying to solve a sinister mystery without becoming sinister himself. Investigating a rush of crimes in a small town will affect you in a certain way.”

All The Wrong Questions: Who Could That Be At This Hour? (Egmont Press, 23rd October, £8.99, hb, 9781405256216)