Penultimate means "next to last," which is literally what Book the Twelfth is. So, quite literally, the title means "The next to last peril."
In this book, the Baudelaires disguise themselves as hotel concierges while trying to uncover the mysteries surrounding V.F.D.
If this is the first book you found while searching for a book to read next, then the first thing you should know is that this next-to-last book is what you should put down first. Sadly, this book presents the next-to-last chronicle of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, and it is next-to-first in its supply of misery, despair, and unpleasantness.
Probably the next-to-last things you would like to read about are a harpoon gun, a rooftop sunbathing salon, two mysterious initials, three unidentified triplets, a notorious villain, and an unsavory curry.
Next-to-last things are the first thing to be avoided, and so allow me to recommend that you put this next-to-last book down first, and find something else to read next at last, such as the next-to-last book in another chronicle, or a chronicle containing other next-to-last things, so that this next-to-last book does not become the last book you will read.
With all due respect,
The book starts with the Baudelaires riding Kit Snicket's taxi, the situation at the end of The Grim Grotto. A distraught and pregnant Kit drives them to the Hotel Denouement, where she leaves them with concierge uniforms and tells them to give her a signal that she can see in the sky if the meeting on Thursday is canceled. She also says that Quigley Quagmire, of whom Violet is very fond, is out at sea saving his siblings. They are also to be wary of the managers of the Hotel, identical brothers Frank, a volunteer, and Ernest, a villain. The hotel is designed like a giant library, with rooms cataloged by the Dewey Decimal System. The Baudelaires are expected to serve and help the people of the Hotel, as a front so they can be flâneurs, and in particular learn whether the mysterious "J.S." is helping V.F.D. or its enemies.
When the Baudelaires enter the lobby from the entrance in the white fog that is emitted from the funnel, the see a lot of things like a line at the receptionists' desk, bellboys and bellgirls are rolling different luggage to the elevators, waiters and waitresses were bringing food and drinks to people who are sitting in the lobby, taxi drivers ushering their passengers in to join the line, dogs dragging their owners out for a walk, confused tourists looking quizzically at maps, rambunctious children were playing hide and seek amongst the potted plants, a man in a tuxedo playing tunes on the Grand Piano for anyone who cared to listen, members of the cleaning staff were polishing the green wooden floors, an enormous fountain in one corner of the room, and a woman standing in the opposite corner shouting a man's name over and over again in a crazed annoyed voice. The Baudelaires meet either Frank or Ernest who states that they are short-handed and must figure out the hotel system. He informs them that they are to answer to the summons of the hotel guests. One bellboy appears telling Frank or Ernest that a taxi driver dropped off some luggage where he said that the guests will not arrive until Thursday. Frank or Ernest left with the bellboy to take care of the situation leaving the Baudelaires near a large wooden bench.
The other manager that might be Frank or Ernest appears nearby with a bunch of newspapers where he reads the article from The Daily Punctilio about the Baudelaires being sighted in The City. After getting the opinion of the article from the disguised Baudelaires, Frank or Ernest escort a bellgirl to the Newstand in Room 168. After a discussion of them growing up, the Baudelaires are encountered by either Frank or Ernest as they ask how the hotel is organized. Frank or Ernest explains that the Hotel Denouement is organized by the Dewey decimal system similar to the way that books are organized in many libraries where he uses Room 831 where German poets are gathered as an example and even a description of the social sciences as well as the bells that ring being associated with each room.
Three bells ring simultaneously, and the three orphans are forced to separate on Frank or Ernest's suggestion, in order to carry out various errands. Frank or Ernest leave to go talk to a banker on the phone when told about it by a bellboy.
Violet goes up to the rooftop sunbathing salon where she finds Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats. Carmelita is patrolling the rooftop pool in a large boat, complete with sails, which was given to her as a gift from Esmé and Count Olaf. Geraldine Julienne, the reporter for the The Daily Punctilio who wrote that the Baudelaires killed Count Olaf, was also present on the rooftop sunbathing salon. Geraldine was interviewing Esmé about the Baudelaires. Violet overhears about a cocktail party on Thursday. Carmelita wants her to bring a harpoon gun, which Violet gets from Frank without knowing it. He asks her if she is who he thinks she is. Violet replies that she is a concierge and brings the gun to Carmelita.
Klaus goes to a room for people in the sawmill industry, where he finds Sir and Charles (from The Miserable Mill). They have him take them to the sauna, which is just down the hall. He props the door open to listen in, and overhears them talk about a party on Thursday, and someone with the initials of J.S. However, Frank or Ernest enters and has Sir and Charles vacate the sauna and arranges for a chemist outside to take them to Room 547 where Organic Chemistry is in order to satisfy Sir's claim of liking the burning wood smell. Then Frank or Ernest he has Klaus hang a flypaper-like roll of sticky paper called birdpaper outside the window, in order to catch and trap any falling birds. He asks the same question of Klaus as Frank or Ernest asked of Violet and he gets the same response.
Sunny goes to a room for educational people, where she sees Vice Principal Nero, Mrs. Bass and Mr. Remora, all from The Austere Academy. Mrs. Bass has in the room several bags of money from Mulctuary Money Management. Nero was practicing for his performance on Thursday. They ask when they are going to stop for their lunch break as Nero is surprised that Esmé invited them to the party on Thursday. She takes them to an Indian restaurant in Room 954 which is run by Hal from The Hostile Hospital who is now wearing a turban. When Hal quoted "I didn't know this was a sad occasion," Mr. Remora quoted "it won't be a sad occasion if you don't feed us." When she is sent to fetch a napkin by Nero, Sunny hides in the kitchen and listens to a conversation by Hal and someone that might be Frank or Ernest, also about J.S., and then they see her. Dewey gives her a Vernacularly Fastened Door and has her put it on the lock of a laundry room. The laundry room has a vent through which something can fall and - if the lock is on the door - that something will be protected.
The Baudelaires get together after a long day and try to put together their stories, and wonder how the two managers can be in three places at once. Finally, Klaus deduces that a crow will bring the Sugar Bowl to the Hotel; it will be shot down by the harpoon gun, fall onto the flypaper, and the sugar bowl will fall into the laundry room vent. All of a sudden, they see a man descending form the ceiling of the Hotel from its clock. They think it is Ernest or Frank, but it turns out to be their third brother Dewey Denouement, also explaining how three different identical men talked to the Baudelaires at the same time. He is helpful and tells them that there is a duplicate of the Hotel at the bottom of the pond, containing a catalogue of all the secrets of V.F.D, which he has spent his entire life collecting. Then Justice Strauss and Jerome Squalor, who both believe that they are the J.S. being contacted, arrive by taxi where they have been helping Dewey. Justice Strauss has been communicating with the High Court on helping the Baudelaires, and Jerome - who also felt bad about how he abandoned the orphans - has written a book on the matter. The High Court justices are coming to put Count Olaf and the other evil people of V.F.D. on trial and so - on Thursday - all of the noble people will arrive to give evidence.
Re-entering the hotel at 1:00 AM, they encounter Count Olaf who says that the Hook-Handed Man and Fiona (of whom Klaus is very fond, due to their kiss in The Grim Grotto) stole the Carmelita (a submarine from The Grim Grotto named after Carmelita). Esmé, Carmelita, and Hugo (who posed as the Rooftop Sunbathing Salon attendant), Colette (who posed as a passing chemist that went passed Klaus near the sauna), and Kevin (who posed as a washerwoman in the laundry room), the three carnival freaks who joined Olaf in The Carnivorous Carnival, all arrive. While Jerome tries to get back with Esmé to no avail as she also wants the Sugar Bowl that Beatrice Baudelaire stole from her, Olaf also hints that the Baudelaire's own parents were not noble and that they had something to do with a box of poison darts. While Olaf states to the Baudelaires that Geraldine, Sir, and Nero dislike them, the Baudelaires claim that Charles and Hal don't. Dewey tells Olaf of the catalogue he has made, which prompts Esmé to comment that he must already know what is inside the sugar bowl and why it is so important. Olaf takes the harpoon gun from Carmelita and threatens Dewey. The Baudelaires shield him and approach Olaf as he counts to ten. However, he is interrupted by the coughing of Arthur Poe, who has come from his room to see what is happening. Count Olaf quickly shoves the gun into the Baudelaire's hands. The Baudelaire's accidentally drop the gun to the ground. It discharges and a harpoon hits Dewey, inflicting a fatal wound. He screamed loudly as the clock struck 2:00 AM.
Dewey stumbles backwards out of the hotel and the Baudelaires watch as he sinks into the pond as the Baudelaires run after him. They then hear the shutters of the windows open up as they hear all of the hotel's guests having woken up from what happened in the lobby as one of the guests tells a man named Bruce to come back to bed. One person admitted that he couldn't sleep because of the Indian food that he ate. When they Baudelaires stated that Dewey was killed, the guests have never heard of Dewey as he was considered a legendary figure. Geraldine is heard stating that they should all go downstairs and investigate the death. Justice Strauss's taxi driver - an enigmatic man smoking a cigarette - (possibly Lemony Snicket) talks to them, but they cannot tell if he is a volunteer or a villain, and they realize they cannot leave the scene of the crime. When Mr. Poe confronted the children, they tell him that Dewey is dead and that they don't know what happened. As the entire hotel is awakened, the Baudelaires walk back into the hotel with Mr. Poe behind them and the taxi driver drives away. Lemony Snicket suggests that he has the sugar bowl in the passenger seat and a woman in his trunk, possibly The Duchess of Winnipeg. The following quote may explain where it was hidden: "and even the small item that sat on the passenger seat, still damp from its hiding place..." meaning that it was probably hidden either in the pond or in the laundry room.
Many of the awoken guests have gathered in the lobby and a scene of confusion follows as each one comments about the Baudelaires:
- Geraldine claims that the Baudelaire children are no ordinary murderers.
- Sir remembers the Baudealairs claiming that they caused accidents at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill while Charles stated that the accidents weren't their fault and were the fault of Count Olaf.
- Mrs. Morrow claims that Count Olaf was the Baudelaires' victim where they claimed that he was "murdered" by the Baudelaires in the Village of Fowl Devotees.
- Mr. Lesko thought that the man who was killed was "Count Omar."
- Jerome claims that the Baudelaires aren't murderers and found them polite and kind.
- Mr. Remora claims that they are good students of his.
- Vice-Principal Nero mocked what Mr. Remora said and claimed that Violet and Klaus flunked all the tests and Sunny was the worst administrative assistant he's ever seen.
- Mrs. Bass states that they are criminals that should be punished which Hugo agreed with her on as they are too freakish to be allowed to move freely anywhere.
- Hal firmly says that the Baudelaire children are not criminals.
- Esmé retorted and stated that the Baudelaire children are guilty as sin as her fingers rested on Carmelita's shoulder as Carmelita glares at them as they are pushed passed her by Mr. Poe.
- A hotel bellboy claims that they are guiltier than that as another bellboy claimed that he thinks that they are guiltier than the other one thinks.
- A person the Baudelaire children did not recognize claims that they are nice kids while another person claims that they are vicious criminals and another thinks that they are noble volunteers.
Mr. Poe escorts the Baudelaire children to the far corner of the lobby where Frank or Ernest was standing next to the door that is marked 121. Justice Strauss breaks it up by saying to the assembled people that their decision for the their guilt or innocence is not for them to decide on as this is the matter of the High Court. As Justice Strauss states that the authorities have been notified while the other judges from the High Court are on their way, she states that they will begin the trial in a matter of hours. A woman in a nightgown with dancing clowns on it thought that the trial will be on Thursday. Justice Strauss claims that showing up early is the sign of a noble person where she and the other noble judges will decide on this matter and the other matters once and for all. Justice Strauss did give the Baudelaire children a gentle smile while the Baudelaires smiled back.
Jerome tells the children that they don't have to wait until tomorrow for justice to be served while Justice Strauss states that she trusts her fellow judges. Justice Strauss then claims that she spoke to the managers to place them in Room 121 just to keep them safe until the trial begins. Frank or Ernest unlocked the door which showed the closet where Violet found the harpoon gun. The murmuring crowd then parted to reveal Count Olaf who walked towards the Baudelaires where he claims that they should be locked up to keep treacherous people from wandering the hotel which Colette and Kevin agreed on. Justice Strauss tells Count Olaf that he has also been accused of a great deal of treachery and that the high court is very interested in his case as well where Count Olaf will be locked in Room 165 until the trial begins. Count Olaf reluctantly agreed to Justice Strauss' suggestion as Frank or Ernest took Count Olaf's arm and escorted him to Room 165. As the Baudelaire children go into Room 121, Jerome and Justice Strauss gave them a little wave and Mr. Poe gave them a cough while Frank or Ernest closed the door to Room 121.
It is early Wednesday morning when the Baudelaires go to sleep, and they wake in the afternoon where they are returned to the lobby for the trial by Frank and Ernest. Due to a literal reading of the phrase "justice is blind", everyone except the judges is blindfolded. Even Frank and Ernest are blindfolded. The blindfolded people had a hard time finding their seats where even Charles had a hard time finding Sir. Anyone who peaks will be found guilty of contempt of court. The trial begins and Justice Strauss states that they had to the trial today instead of Thursday in light of the death of Dewey and that the guilty parties will be handed to the authorities who are waiting outside. Count Olaf and Esmé Squalor state that there will be a cocktail party after the trial to which Justice Strauss states that they are out of order. Olaf gives a brief speech where he states his innocence. The Baudelaires, however, are beginning to question their own nobility and morality and so they answer that they are "comparatively innocent". Justice Strauss then asks for people to submit evidence to the judges as the blindfolded people kept stumbling over another:
- Geraldine submits the newspaper articles.
- Sir submits the employment records.
- Charles submits the environmental studies.
- Mr. Remora submits the grade books.
- Mrs. Bass submits the blueprints of banks.
- Vice-Principal Nero submits the administrative records.
- Hal submits some paperwork.
- Mr. Poe submits some financial records while coughing.
- Mr. Lesko submits some rulebooks while Mrs. Morrow submits some constitutions.
- Hugo submits some carnival posters.
- Colette submits some drawings.
- Kevin submits some books with both his left and right hands.
- Esmé Squalor submits some ruby-encrusted blank pages.
- Carmelita submits a book that tells how wonderful she is.
- Frank and/or Ernest submit a commonplace book.
- An unknown person submits his mother.
- All other unknown attendees submit various items.
- Jerome Squalor submits his history of injustice where the lobby filled with a mix of applause and hissing.
Each accused is given an opportunity to say their side of the story as Count Olaf claims that he is innocent claiming that the evidence will prove their innocence. The Baudelaires find themselves having a hard time claiming their side of the story like they did with Mr. Poe and the Quagmire triplets. Violet starts to tell their story starting at Briny Beach where they heard that their parents have perished in the fire. When Justice Strauss stops commenting in sentences and just commented "Hmmmm" and the other two judges started speaking, the Baudelaires get suspicious and had no choice to remove their blindfolds to discover that the other judges are the Man with a Beard but No Hair and the Woman with Hair but No Beard who have been working with Olaf. Both of them claim that the Baudelaires are guilty of contempt of court as Sunny begs for everyone to peak. When both villains tell the crowd not to do that, the Baudelaires tell everyone else to take off their blindfolds. Though the Man With a Beard But No Hair and the Woman With Hair But No Beard claim that the Baudelaires are tricking them and that Justice Strauss is enjoying saltwater taffy. While Jerome claims that they might be right, Esmé claims that the Baudelaires are liars. While Charles, Frank or Ernest, Mr. Remora, and Hal believe them and think they are innocent, Sir, Frank or Ernest, Vice-Principal Nero, Hugo, Colette, Kevin, and Geraldine don't and believe they're guilty. Mrs. Bass claims that they are bank robbers as Mr. Poe asks "Who said that?" Olaf flees with the gagged Justice Strauss and the Baudelaires chase them to the elevator.
Realizing that they need to follow Olaf, both to stop him from getting away and because there are authorities at the door of the hotel, the Baudelaires go with him and Justice Strauss in the elevator. He goes first to the laundry room, believing the sugar bowl to be inside. Using three clues - a literary clue, a clue about the Baudelaire's health (their allergy to peppermints mentioned in The Wide Window), and a clue about his own family: interestingly enough that his parents were killed with poison darts, suggesting the involvement of the Baudelaire parents - they break inside. The sugar bowl is not inside. Angered, Olaf declares that he is going to the roof to get the specimen of Medusoid Mycelium which he will spread through the hotel, killing everyone. He will then escape in a boat which he will jump in off the roof. Violet, realizing his plan is foolish, agrees to help. Klaus is surprised that she would do this, but Violet knows that they need a way out as well and going with Olaf may be the only way. Then, Sunny abruptly suggests that they burn down the Hotel and Olaf agrees.
Using some laundry sheets and Jerome Squalor's book Odious Lusting After Finance from Justice Strauss' hands as kindling, Count Olaf starts a fire in the laundry room and suggest that they leave before the fire reaches the chemicals. When it comes to getting to the roof, Count Olaf ignores the "In case of fire, use stairs. Do not use elevator!" sign as he summons an elevator. Violet warns everyone on the first floor of the fire where the Man With a Beard But No Hair had his hand on Jerome Squalor's shoulder. As the Man With a Beard But No Hair secretly praises Count Olaf for the fire which brings a frown to Jerome's face, he starts directing people towards the elevator when Jerome asks how arson is a good thing. Frank or Ernest ask if Olaf is here as the other one asks where the Baudelaires are as the Woman With Hair But No Beard directs them towards the elevator. When Violet shouts to call the fire department as the elevator doors started to close, they could not tell if it was Frank or Ernest that said "Which one?" While Olaf was angered that the Man With a Beard But No Hair and the Woman With Hair But No Beard had failed him, the Baudelaires were unable to point out that he failed them for trying to double-cross them.
As the elevator goes up, the Baudelaires use a trick their parents taught them and press all of the buttons so the elevator stops on every floor. This gives them and Justice Strauss an opportunity to warn all of the guests of the fire. However, the guests are still blindfolded from the trial and Olaf shouts that the fire warning is fake.
- Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats were on the second floor. They do not know who to believe and state that they can find their own way. It is also mentioned that the Baudelaires will never encounter Esmé or Carmelita again.
- On the third floor, Mr. Poe hears Sunny's voice as Justice Strauss tries to tell him that there is a fire. As Mr. Poe claims that he is still in charge of the Baudelaires' affairs, the elevator door closes before they can finish hearing what he has to say.
- Mrs. Bass was seen on the third story still wearing her blonde wig with her blindfold still stretched over her small narrow mask as she muttered something about a getaway car.
- Mr. Remora was wandering around the seventh story with Vice-Principal Nero as Mr. Remora was wondering about fried bananas while Vice-Principal Nero worries about his violin case.
- The Baudelaires saw glimpses of Geraldine Julienne using her microphone as a cane while squealing about headlines.
- Charles and Sir are holding hands so that they won't lose one another as the bicker over the fact about fires being good for the lumber industry or not.
- Hugo, Colette, and Kevin were holding the bird paper that Klaus hung on the outside of the sauna. Hugo asked if the plan for the horderves is still in operation, Colette talking about plucking off the feathers of crows, and Kevin wondering if he should hold the bird paper in his left hand or his right hand.
- Mrs. Morrow was seen arguing with Mr. Lesko.
- A bearded man with a guitar was seen making friends with a woman in a crow-shaped hat as he sings her a song.
- An unidentified man calls for someone named Bruce and an unidentified woman calls for her mother.
- Other unidentified people are still wandering the halls of the hotel trying to capture anyone who is suspicious.
The narrative does not reveal which guests believed the Baudelaires, which guests believed Count Olaf, and which guests believed Justice Strauss. Though Lemony Snicket hints that some of them died in the fire.
On the roof, Klaus reveals that the sugar bowl fell into the pond and not into the laundry room. Here, Violet deduces that Sunny suggested they set the Hotel on fire as a signal so that noble people like Kit, Hector, and the Quagmires would cancel the meeting. As Sunny says "the last safe place is safe no more." Violet makes a chute for the boat to safely make it off the building and they use the giant spatulas used for flipping sunbathers as oars. Justice Strauss attempts to stop the Baudelaires leaving on the boat, but Sunny bites her hand and makes her let go. The boat floats safely down to the ocean, and the Baudelaires are left "in the same boat" as Count Olaf.
In the last picture of The Penultimate Peril, Count Olaf and the Baudelaire children sail away from the smoking shore aboard a large ship. They are headed toward The Island where almost everything washes up eventually.
Unlike the other novels, there does not seem to be any explicit foreshadowing to the next book.
Letter to the Editor
NOTE: This was written on a napkin.
To My Kind Editor,
The end is near
With all due respect,
- Frank Denouement
- Ernest Denouement
- Dewey Denouement
- Mysterious male taxi driver (revealed in the TV series to be Lemony Snicket)
- Violet Baudelaire
- Klaus Baudelaire
- Sunny Baudelaire
- Count Olaf
- Esmé Squalor
- Carmelita Spats
- Kit Snicket
- Man with a Beard but No Hair
- Woman with Hair but No Beard
- Vice Principal Nero
- Mr. Remora
- Mrs. Bass
- Justice Strauss
- Jerome Squalor
- Arthur Poe
- Geraldine Julienne
- Mrs. Morrow
- Mr. Lesko
- Beatrice Baudelaire
- Bertrand Baudelaire
- Quigley Quagmire
- Jacques Snicket
- Lemony Snicket
- Montgomery Montgomery
- Olivia Caliban
- Eleanora Poe
- Bearded Man with a Guitar
- Woman in a Crow-Shaped Hat
- Cheif Olaf Sr
- Adroit technical faculties: a phrase which here means "a knack for inventing mechanical devices"
- Seen better days: tucked into the lapel was a flower that had seen better days, a phrase which here means "had lost most of its petals and wilted considerably"
- Distraught: "I'm distraught," Kit said, using a word which here means "sad and upset"
- Strain: When a woman is in such a condition, it is best to avoid strain, a word which here means "physical activity that might endanger either the woman or her future offspring."
- Preoccupied: a word which here means "in desperate and mysterious circumstances brought about by Count Olaf."
- Get their bearings: a phrase which here means "stop staring at this perplexing sight and direct their attention to Kit Snicket."
- Monogrammed: a word which here means "had the initials V. B., K. B., and S. B. embroidered on them."
- Penultimate: means "next-to-last"
- Inadvertent trouble: They had almost forgotten about Geraldine Julienne, a journalist who had caused them much inadvertent trouble, a phrase which here means "published in the newspaper that the Baudelaire orphans had murdered Jacques Snicket, whom she mistakenly identified as Count Olaf."
- Augmented: The Baudelaires' look of dismay augmented, a word which here means "increased dramatically as they realized they had some bad news for Kit Snicket."
- Flaneur: "Flaneurs," Kit explained, "are people who quietly observe their surroundings, intruding only when it is absolutely necessary."
- Unfathomable: The Baudelaires looked carefully at their new manager, but his face was utterly unfathomable, a word which here means "blank, so the Baudelaires could not tell if he was giving them a friendly warning or a sinister threat."
- Hazard a guess: Before either Baudelaire sister could hazard a guess, a phrase which here means "attempt to answer Klaus's question," the tall, skinny manager reappeared at their sides.
- Save their skins: The children managed to discover the crucial information necessary to save their skins, a phrase which here means "keep them alive for the next terrible chapter in their lives."
- Sequentially: As I'm sure you've noticed, most of the history of the Baudelaire orphans is organized sequentially, a word which here means "so that the events in the lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are related in the order in which they occurred."
- Sycophants: Geraldine Julienne was the irresponsible journalist who had printed so many lies about the Baudelaires, and she wasn't happy to see that the reporter had become one of Esmé's sycophants, a word which here means "people who enjoy flattering people who enjoy being flattered.
- Figurehead: On the bow of the boat was an ornately carved figurehead, a word which here means "wooden statue of an octopus attacking a man in a diving suit"
- Tomboy: an insulting term inflicted on girls whose behavior some people find unusual.
- Let something slip: Esmé frowned, and Violet could tell that the stylish woman had let something slip, a phrase which here means "said something she wished she hadn't."
- Unconvincingly: "Because birdwatching is very in," she said unconvincingly, a word which here means "clearly telling a lie."
- Preoccupied: Violet was too preoccupied, a word which here means "wondering what exactly Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats were doing at the Hotel Denouement"
- Turned on his heel: Frank or Ernest gave the eldest Baudelaire another smile and then turned on his heel-a phrase which here means "turned around in a somewhat fancy manner"
- Epistemology: a word which here means "theories of knowledge"
- Stuff of legend: The clock in the lobby of the Hotel Denouement is the stuff of legend, a phrase which here means "very famous for being very loud"
- Gruffly: "I was just trying to be cautious!" Sir said gruffly, a word which here means "in a tone that indicated he had no intention of being more polite."
- Broken out in a cold sweat: If it had not been so hot in the sauna he would have broken out in a cold sweat, a phrase which here means "felt very nervous about the conversation he was observing."
- Remarkable: "I think it's remarkable," Klaus said finally, carefully choosing a word which here means either wonderful or horrible.
- Taciturn demeanor: Sunny decided that she would adopt a taciturn demeanor, a phrase which here means "only communicate when absolutely necessary, so as not to call attention to her youth and relative inexperience in employment."
- Stint: It would be difficult to say whether Sunny ended her brief stint-a word which here means "dreadful period of time"
- Budding gourmand: a phrase which here means "young girl with a strong interest in cooking"
- Hold a grudge: Sunny had no way of knowing if Hal continued to hold a grudge-a phrase which here means "was an enemy of the Baudelaires"
- Get a little shut-eye: Even the noblest of volunteers needs to get a little shut-eye, a phrase which here means "lie down behind a large, wooden desk and hope that nobody rings for the concierge until morning."
- In a manner of speaking: "In a manner of speaking," Dewey said, using an expression which here means "sort of."
- Immeasurably: "Both these people have helped us immeasurably," Dewey said, using a word which here means "a whole lot."
- Succinct: It was clear Count Olaf had since adopted a style of laughter that was succinct, a word which here means "only the word 'ha.'"
- Took center stage: Colette took center stage, a phrase which here means "stepped forward, and twisted her body into an unusual shape."
- Struck someone a fatal blow: The penultimate harpoon was fired with a swoosh! and sailed through the enormous, domed room and struck someone a fatal blow, a phrase which here means "killed one of the people in the room."
- Postpone their grief: They knew it would be wise to postpone their grief-a phrase which here means "mourn the death of Dewey Denouement at a later time"
- Bootless: They knew that arguing with the crowd would be bootless, a word which here means "likely to get the siblings in even more trouble"
- Caught a few winks: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny caught a few winks-a phrase which here means "slept fitfully in the closet-sized Room 121"
- Sporadic: The Baudelaires' employment was sporadic, a word which here means "consisting of a great number of occupations, held for a short time and under very unusual circumstances."
- Pandemonium: The room erupted into pandemonium, a word which here means "a crowd of blindfolded people attempting to give evidence to three judges."
- Exculpatory: The Baudelaires felt as if they were in the middle of an avalanche of observations, research, and other evidence, some of which sounded exculpatory-a word which here means "likely to prove that the Baudelaires were innocent"
- Neither of Count Olaf's filthy hands were full, but they were both otherwise engaged: A phrase which here means that one hand was covering Justice Strauss's mouth with tape
- Explained for no one's benefit: Count Olaf explained for no one's benefit, a phrase which here means "even though that was clear to everyone in the hallway."
- Peccant: Count Olaf's smile had never been as peccant, a word which here means "so hungry for evil deeds as to be unhealthy."
- This takes the cake: Count Olaf said, using an expression which here means "I find this especially amusing and outrageous!"
- Fend for themselves: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were thinking of the fire that took their parents and their home and dropped them into the world to fend for themselves, a phrase which here means "go first from guardian to guardian, and then from desperate situation to desperate situation, trying to survive and solve the mysteries that hung over their heads like smoke."
- Prank: a word which here means "joke played on someone with whom you are sharing an elevator"
- Served a dual purpose: The prank served a dual purpose, a phrase which here means "enabled the Baudelaires to do two things at once."
- Four V.F.D. phrases are used: "The world is quiet here," "Are you who I think you are?" "Not many people have the courage to help with a scheme like this," and "I didn't realize this was a sad occasion."
- Esmé mentions Beatrice saying "Beatrice stole the sugar bowl from me!" (p.221) Beatrice is the woman that Lemony writes all of his dedications to.
- The dedication in the book implies that Beatrice's house was burned down, something that often happens to members of V.F.D.
- First use of Sebald Code in the books. In the scene where Frank (or Ernest) explains to the Baudalaires the bell system. His message was "I can't tell if you are associates or enemies, please respond." The Baudalaires, illiterate to Sebald Code, did not understand the message, nor receive it.
References to the real world
- Main article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works
- Frank, Ernest, and Dewey's surname, Denouement, is a reference to the literary term dénouement, which refers to action that takes place between the falling action and the resolution of a plot.
- Dewey's name is a reference to the Dewey Decimal System, which is how the entire hotel is organized.
- Frank has an evil brother named Ernest, which may be a reference to The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
- The names of Frank and Ernest are synonyms for truthful or honest, and refer to the phrase "You be frank, and I'll be earnest."
- Hotel Denouement's name is a reference to the literary term dénouement.
- Hotel Denouement is modeled after the Library Hotel in New York City.
- The term "flanuer" is used to describe the Baudelaire's silent observations of the hotel visitors. This term was first credited by the philosopher Charles Baudelaire to describe the "urban flanuer"; "the silent and solitary walker", primarily in the city who sees what others do not. This is of course a fitting reference and recall to this philosopher who was the original reference for the name of three protagonists.
- It is mentioned that author Richard Wright asks the question "Who knows when some slight shock, disturbing the delicate balance between social order and thirsty aspiration, shall send the skyscrapers in our cities toppling?" This refers to the novel Native Son by the aforementioned author.
- There are several quotes from the Italian opera La Forza del Destino, and it's mentioned that Baudelaires' parents attended the show.
- Kit Snicket tells the children tea should be "bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword," a reference to the Biblical verse Proverbs 5:4.
- Odious Lusting After Finance, the book written by Jerome Squalor against injustice, is a backronym of "OLAF."
- Sunny uses the word "Henribergson" as a reply to Mr. Poe, refers to Henri Bergson, referencing Henri Bergson, an influential French philosopher of the 1900s.
- Sunny says "Scalia," meaning "The literal interpretation makes no sense!" This is a reference to United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, infamous for making a very literal interpretation of the law.
- Sunny says the word "efcharisto" to Dewey. This translates to thank you in Greek.
- Dewey said that his favorite section in the Dewey Decimal System was "020," which is about The Dewey Decimal system and Science.
The Penultimate Peril has a 4.04/5 on Goodreads.com.
- The book's title was not revealed until shortly before publication. A website called The Nameless Novel, operated by the publishers of the series, revealed the title through a series of puzzles gradually disclosed between July and October 2005.
- The American cover has the same illustration as the British cover. The only other book in the series to use the same cover picture for both editions is The End.
- None of the members of Olaf's original troop appears in this book other than Olaf himself.
Several editions of The Penultimate Peril have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Penultimate Peril (UK), The Penultimate Peril (UK Paperback) and La Pénultième Péril.
The Penultimate Peril (UK)
This edition has the same content as in the original one. The main difference here is the cover, which is black, has different fonts and a red spine. Some colors in Brett Helquist's cover illustration were also changed. The book is published by Egmont. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Penultimate Peril features a row of flames referencing the fire that destroys the Hotel Denouement. This is repeated on the back cover.
The Penultimate Peril (UK Paperback)
This is a paperback version of The Penultimate Peril released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape.
La Pénultième Péril
La Pénultième Péril is the French edition of The Penultimate Peril, published by Nathan Poche. It has a very different cover, Brett Helquist's illustration is not seen here, apart for a portrait of the Baudelaires. It is almost entirely black, with a white illustration of a bell.