|“||There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a theft. I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it. I was almost thirteen and I was wrong. I was wrong about all of it. I should have asked the question, 'Why would someone say something was stolen when it was never theirs to begin with?' Instead, I asked the wrong question- four wrong questions, more or less. This is the account of the first.||”|
The series is a prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events. It focuses on Snicket's childhood, more specifically, his apprenticeship with V.F.D., and on a series of wrong questions he should not have been asking. "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" is the first of those questions.
12-year-old Lemony Snicket is going on a train ride with his parents (suspected to be chaperones), when his chaperone-to-be gives him a note on where to meet her. He goes to the washroom, and uses a ladder (which he had prepared before) and a small window to go down and see his chaperone's roadster.
In the tiny town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea, Snicket begins his apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson, to investigate the theft of a statue. They are invited to the Sallis Mansion, and meet their client, Mrs. Murphy Sallis. She mentions the Bombinating Beast, a statue about the size of a milk bottle, black in color and made of very precious wood. She says that this statue is valued at a great price, and she asked them to promise to be discreet about the Sallis name, and to return the statue to its rightful owner. Mrs. Sallis is sure that the Mallahan Family are the ones that stole the statue. Theodora was excited at that their client had told them who the culprit was, and they decided to continue investigating.
When they arrive at the Mallahan Lighthouse, they pretend to be a couple mad about lighthouses and Mr. Mallahan welcomes them. Here Snicket meets a girl named Moxie Mallahan, an amateur reporter who is the daughter of the Mallahans. She asks him things, and Snicket asks if there is a statue of the Bombinating Beast. Moxie takes him upstairs to show him. She calls it "that old gimcrack" and Snicket becomes more confused. Theodora calls him to go down, and she concludes that Moxie must be onto them.
They arrive at The Lost Arms, a hotel which is owned by Prosper Lost, a man who is very thin. They are staying at the Far East Suite, which is awful, and they have to share a room. Theodora doesn't want to be distracted, so Snicket goes to a library and meets Dashiell Qwerty, a sub-librarian. He says that Mrs. Sally Murphy was once a famous actress, when Snicket asks about local legends (mythology.) He then hints that he is looking for mythology, and he finds out that the Bombinating Beast is hinted as half horse and half shark, and they make bombinating sounds. His research is interrupted by Stew Mitchum, a boy who slings stones at birds. Snicket requests a book (which is actually a secret message.) But I Cannot Meet You At The Fountain, written by an author named Sorry, (reads: Sorry, But I Cannot Meet You At The Fountain, addressed to Kit Snicket.) He then leaves and returns to The Lost Arms.
When he arrives at The Lost Arms, he sees the the town's only police officers, Harvey and Mimi Mitchum, father and mother of Stew. They reported that a streetlight was vandalised. Lemony replies it must be Stew, but Stew's parents do not believe him. After the officers leave, Theodora plans that they should take the statue at midnight. She says they will meet at the lighthouse. Snicket orders a taxi from Pecuchet Bellerophon and Bouvard Bellerophon (Pip and Squeak) and goes to the lighthouse.
He arrives at the lighthouse and informs Moxie of the burglary. They read until midnight, when Snicket must get the statue. He manages to get it, and he, along with S.Theodora Markson, climbs on the hawser that connects the Sallis Mansion and the Lighthouse. Lemony spots something in the distance, and he falls from the hawser. He falls onto a tree, and is saved by Ellington Feint. They discuss things and he tells her of the Bombinating Beast. The two are found by the Officers Mitchum, and Ellington suggests that she should mail the Bombinating Beast to Snicket at The Lost Arms. He later realizes it was a trick; Ellington had mailed it to herself at the Black Cat Coffee shop. Meanwhile, Snicket and Moxie meet accidentally at Ellington's cottage (which was abandoned) and Moxie tells him that she received a call from him. Snicket denies that he had called. Suddenly, they hear a scream. They find Mrs. Sally Murphy, who had been pretending to be Mrs. Sallis, inside the mansion's basement, which was flooded with water. They rescue her, but she refuses and screams at them.
In the coffee shop, Snicket gets the statue back, and he asks Ellington why she took the statue. She tells him that it is important to Hangfire, and if she gives it to him, he will free her father. Snicket promises to help her free her father without giving up to Hangfire. They deliver the statue to Moxie, but Snicket realizes that he was holding a bag of coffee instead of the statue and that Ellington was holding it.
On Hector's birthday, it is revealed that the butler was Hangfire, and it is finally known that the girl in the illustrations of the beginning and end of the book was Kit Snicket. Snicket promises to make things right in Stain'd-by-the-Sea.
attn VFD: stanzas in meditation
In October 2012, an email list by LSATWQ.com began sending stanzas of a poem related to Who Could That Be At This Hour?.
Stanza 1/7, sent on 3 October 2012, included the first image below. It reads, "The ink has begun to fade from the sea, / The coffee is starting to sour; / But the question that troubles all business in town is / Who could that be at this hour?"
Stanza 2/7, sent on 14 November 2012, included the second image below. It reads, "Why does the librarian weep every night? / Why is the chemist so dour? / Why is the statue on everyone's mind? / Who could that be at this hour?"
Stanza 3/7, sent on 25 October 2012, included the third image below. It reads, "A scream can be heard from a mansion thought empty, / A bell can be heard from the tower, / A question is whispered from behind every door: / Who could that be at this hour?"
Stanza 4/7, sent on 10 October 2012, included the first image below. It reads, "When the dark sun rises it burns like a blaze, / The rain is an icy cold shower; / But at night the inhabitants look to the sky– / Who could that be at this hour?"
Stanza 5/7, sent on 29 November 2012, included the third image below. It reads, "What is that hovering over this town? / What sinister thing comes to power? / What questions unasked hold the answers unsaid? / Who could that be at this hour?"
Stanza 6/7, sent on 8 November 2012, included the second image below. It reads, "At night some horrible thing comes to life, / It blooms like some dark, evil flower, / It rattles and knocks as it slithers on past, / Who could that be at this hour?"
Stanza 7/7, sent on 20 December 2012, included the image below. It reads, "What will you do when they strike in the night? / Will you stand? Will you run? Will you cower? / Who will you turn to when all seems quite lost? / Who could that be at this hour?"
Snicket and his associates reference several books, though usually not by name. They are supposed to be:
- Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes: In Chapter Three, Lemony describes a book about a boy named Johnny who lived in the American Colonies and burned his hand, preventing him from working as a silversmith.
- The Interlopers by Saki: In Chapter Five, Lemony says that he's known what the word "interlopers" meant since he read "a short story by a British man with a funny false name."
- Danny, the Champion of the World and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: In Chapter Five, when the Bellerophon brothers ask for a tip, Lemony recommends a book about a champion of the world, by "that author with all the chocolate."
- Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder: In Chapter Six, while waiting for Theodora at the lighthouse, Lemony reads a book about a family in a big woods "who liked to make things."
- Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: In Chapter Eight, while in the library, Lemony reads a book "about someone who was a true friend and a good writer (Charlotte) who lived on a bloodthirsty farm."
- Harriet the Spy, The Long Secret and Sport by Louise Fitzhugh: In Chapter Eight, Lemony tips the Bellerophons that The Long Secret is a better book than the one that came before it. Later in the book, he uses the trilogy to hide in his package, while he puts the Bombinating Beast statue in the library.
- Nobody's Family is Going to Change by Louise Fitzhugh: After Snicket recommends The Long Secret, Pip says that he always preferred "the one about the tap dancer and the lawyer."
- The Letter, a play by W. Somerset Maugham: In Chapter Eight, Lemony sees an advertisement for a play performed at the Stain'd Playhouse, where Sally Murphy plays Leslie Crosbie.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahme: In Chapter Eleven, Lemony recommends the book by name to the Bellerophon brothers.
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: In Chapter Twelve, Ellington and Snicket discuss a book about "a bunch of elves and things [who] get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but nobody can wear." Ellington says her father read the book to her, and Snicket says that he dislikes the trope of the wizard who is powerful but unhelpful.
- Hector says at the end of the book, "Monty's worried". This is most likely a reference to Montgomery Montgomery. He also mentions a "Haruki" being worried, which is also the name of a patient in The Hostile Hospital, possibly confirming her membership in V.F.D.
- It is explained in the book that when the Bombinating Beast swims, it looks like a question mark, most likely referring to The Great Unknown in The Grim Grotto.