With the original A Series Of Unfortunate Events, the new prequel series All The Wrong Questions, a movie, and various bric-a-brac, Daniel Handler (writing as his protagonist, Lemony Snicket) has created an exhausting little universe that only the most determined readers will be able to consume all of. Now—perhaps as a joke, considering its April 1 release date—he’s released one more piece of Snicket-alia, the Encyclopedia Brown-aping File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents.
Taking place in and around the events of the All The Wrong Questions series, File Under follows the young Snicket as he solves mysteries in the eerie setting of Stain’d-by-the-Sea. Known once for its ink production, the town is basically derelict, with only a few folks forming a skeletal municipal structure to keep it going. Although it is the backdrop for the larger narrative of the series, Stain’d-by-the-Sea gets a little more attention here, since Snicket fills in details as he goes about solving the 13 distinct mysteries. The cases, like the town, fluctuate between the quotidian and the absurd.
Just as the Encyclopedia Brown books did, File Under presents a mystery in every chapter, and asks the reader to solve it, before directing them to turn to the back of the book for answers. It’s well-trod ground, and Handler knows it, so he gleefully messes with the format. Some of the mysteries are astoundingly obvious, others unsolvable. As a prank, File Under provides solutions to a number of mysteries that never appear in the book, creating a series of answers with no questions. Tricks like that turn a flimsy little story collection into a worthwhile guffaw for adults, and a nice primer on surrealism for children.
Unfortunately, as fun as this little joke is, it is simply that. Fans of the Snicket sagas will be glad to spend a little more time with the witty and pugnacious narrator, but there’s little else the book accomplishes. Perhaps Handler wrote it to keep himself immersed in this world without actually getting down to the business of finishing the series. As much of a joy as File Under is to read, it feels utterly supplementary: a token book for collectors and fans, rather than anything worth reading in its own right.
But, for a gag book, this is a pretty great one, and the illustrations by graphic artist Seth flesh out the Stain’d-by-the-Sea’s oddball buildings and populace. Here’s hoping that if Handler continues to reel off these little side projects, they remain enjoyable enough to cover their flimsiness.