Lemony Snicket,
A Series of Unfortunate Events,
The Beatrice Letters

(HarperCollins, 2006)

Each book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events begins with a gloomy dedication to a mysterious woman named Beatrice, such as the pithy "To Beatrice -- Dearest, Darling, Dead" that opens The Bad Beginning. Twelve books and one unauthorized autobiography into Lemony Snicket's 13-volume series, Beatrice finally makes an appearance. Or does she?

As might be expected, this latest supplemental volume to the series, like the Unauthorized Autobiography, answers old questions with new ones. Even the title is anything but clear. Who is Beatrice? (Or, perhaps more appropriately, which Beatrice is which?) Do the letters refer to the epistolary or alphabetical variety? Why are so many letters (of both types) missing?

If you haven't read at least most of the previous books in the series, you probably won't care about any of the above. But if you are a desperate Snicket fan feeding an addiction while awaiting the final book, The End, be assured that The Beatrice Letters offers just enough Snicket wackiness and revelations about the Baudelaires, Beatrice and Lemony Snicket himself to be an effective quick fix.

Different in size and format from anything else in the series, The Beatrice Letters is a largish hardcover dossier with an expandable file folder inside. One document inside is a large, double-sided poster with Brett Helquist's distinctive artwork depicting a shipwreck; the other is a galley-bound set of correspondence between Snicket and, it seems, two Beatrices, one his age, one very much younger....

But even to say that much is to say too much -- and after all, most of what is fun about The Beatrice Letters is the way it guards its secrets. The book is filled with anagrams, hidden images (take a closer look at the cover!), puzzling sonnets, potentially misleading initials, codes and punch-out letters that, unscrambled, offer a most disturbing message -- or two? As usual, Snicket brings in the oddest assortment of random things, ranging from root beer to bats to hatpins, any of which could turn out to be significant clues or red herrings. Glossy colored pages, tipped plates and foldable notes give the whole an almost Griffin & Sabine feel.

All in all, there is much in this book for the Snicket fan curious about the secrets at the heart of ASoUE and the concluding volume of the series. Although probably not essential reading, it adds substantially to the mythology underlying the text. Still, at $19.95, the text-light Beatrice Letters is lovely but a bit overpriced. Rabid Snicket fans, myself included, will want to have it for their collection; more casual followers of the series are best off borrowing it from one of the aforementioned fans. Given the popularity of the series, those shouldn't be hard to find.

by Jennifer Mo
28 October 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.