The Penultimate Peril

The Penultimate Peril

infobox Book |
name = The Penultimate Peril
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler)
illustrator = Brett Helquist
cover_artist = Brett Helquist
country = United States
language = English
series = "A Series of Unfortunate Events"
genre = Novel
publisher = HarperCollins
release_date = October 18, 2005
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (hardback & paperback)
pages = 353
isbn = ISBN
preceded_by = The Grim Grotto
followed_by = The End

The Penultimate Peril is the twelfth novel in the book series "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket. The UK and United States version of the book contains two "non-chapters" in addition to the usual thirteen.

Plot summary

The book begins where The Grim Grotto ended, with the Baudelaires in Kit Snicket's taxi. A distraught and pregnant Kit drives them to the Hotel Denouement, serves them brunch, then 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 cancelled. She also says that Quigley Quagmire, of whom Violet is very fond (having shared a kiss with him in The Slippery Slope), 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 rooms are catalogued according to 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.

Three bells ring simultaneously, and the three orphans are forced to separate to answer the summons. Violet goes up to the rooftop sunbathing salon, where she finds Esmé Squalor, in a lettuce leaf bikini and Carmelita Spats, patrolling the rooftop pool in a large boat, complete with sails, which was given to her as a gift from Esmé and Olaf. Geraldine Julienne, the reporter for the "Daily Punctilio" who wrote that the Baudelaires killed Count Omar, -even though it was supposed to be Olaf -was also present on the rooftop sunbathing salon. Violet listens as Geraldine and Esmé discuss a cocktail party at which a guest named J.S. will attempt to spoil the party. Before any details can be disclosed, however, Carmelita insists that Violet bring her a harpoon gun. Violet gets the item from Frank, who, oddly, asks her if she is who he thinks she is.

Klaus goes to a room for people in the sawmill industry, where he finds Sir and Charles (from "The Miserable Mill"). He has to take them to the sauna, down the hall. He props the door open to spy, and overhears them talk about a party on Thursday, and someone with the initials of J.S. However, Ernest asks Klaus to 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 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 Mr. Poe's bank. Sunny takes them to an Indian restaurant in the Hotel, run by Hal from "The Hostile Hospital". When she is sent to fetch a napkin by Nero, she hides in the kitchen and listens to a conversation by Hal and Dewey, 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 drop the sugar bowl into the laundry room vent. All of a sudden, they see a man descending from the ceiling of the Hotel. They think it is Ernest or Frank, but it turns out to be Dewey Denouement, the third brother. Sunny had encountered Dewey. Klaus had encountered Ernest, who wanted the birdpaper hung to catch the crow for the villains. And Violet had encountered Frank, who slyly tried to tell Violet not to give the harpoon gun to Carmelita by saying "Do you really think its a good idea for a little girl to have a harpoon gun?" Dewey 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. Justice Strauss has been working with the High Court to help the Baudelaires, and Jerome - who also felt bad about how he treated the orphans - has written a book on the matter called "Odious Lusting After Finance", backronym of Olaf, in order to bring more attention to Olaf's misdeeds. 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, they encounter Count Olaf who says that the Hook-Handed Man and Fiona stole his submarine "Carmelita ". Hugo, Colette, and Kevin, the three carnival freaks who joined Olaf in "The Carnivorous Carnival", all arrive. 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 in an opera. 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 Mr. Poe, who has come from his room to see what is happening. Count Olaf quickly shoves the gun into the Baudelaire's hands. The Baudelaires accidentally drop the gun to the ground. It discharges, and a harpoon hits Dewey, inflicting a fatal wound. As he dies he thinks of Kit Snicket who is the love of his life, who is now carrying his baby.

Dewey stumbles out of the hotel and the Baudelaires watch as he sinks into the pond. Justice Strauss's taxi driver - an enigmatic man smoking a cigarette - 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. As the entire hotel is wakened, the Baudelaires walk back into the hotel, and the taxi driver drives away. Many of the guests have woken, and a scene of confusion follows. Justice Strauss breaks it up by saying that the accused must have a legal trial, and the Baudelaires are locked in one room, Count Olaf in another.

It is early Wednesday morning when the Baudelaires go to bed, and they wake in the afternoon where they are returned to the lobby for the trial. Due to a literal reading of the phrase "justice is blind", everyone except the judges are blindfolded. The trial begins and 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". When Justice Strauss stops commenting in sentences, the Baudelaires get suspicious and remove their blindfolds to discover that the other justices are Olaf's compatriots, the man with a beard but no hair, and the woman with hair but no beard. The false judges and Olaf are fleeing with the gagged and bound Justice Strauss and the Baudelaires chase them to the elevator, telling everyone else to take off their blindfolds as they do so.

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 reference, the Baudelaire's allergy to peppermints mentioned in "The Wide Window"), and that his parents were killed with poison darts, suggesting the involvement of the Baudelaire parents - they break in, only to find that the sugar bowl is not there. 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, by jumping off the roof in a boat. Violet, realizing his plan is foolish, agrees to help. Klaus is surprised that she would do this but Violet knows that they also need an escape rout, and going with Olaf may be the only way. Then, Sunny abruptly suggests that they burn down the Hotel, and Olaf agrees.

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 other guests are still blindfolded from the trial and Olaf shouts that the fire warning is fake. The narrative does not reveal which guests believed the Baudelaires and which believed the Count, but hints that some of them died in the fire. It is also stated here that the Baudelaires will not see Esmé or Carmelita again.

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. Flame engulfs the Hotel Denouement, and Justice Strauss is possibly killed in the fire. Count Olaf gets away as always.

The boat carries Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and Olaf away from the burning hotel, setting the scene up for The End.

Cultural references & literary allusions

* Both the hotel's name and Dewey's surname are a reference to the literary term, dénouement.

* It is mentioned that author Richard Wright asks a famous unfathomable 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?" "So when Mr. Wright asks his question, he might be wondering if a small event, such as a stone dropping into a pond, can cause ripples in the system of the world, and tremble the things that people want, until all this rippling and trembling brings down something enormous, such as a building." This refers to the novel, "Native Son" by the aforementioned author.

* There are several quotes to the Italian opera "La forza del destino" ("the force of destiny"), and it's mentioned that Baudelaire's parents attended the show.

* In the book's audiotape, the song played is "Things Are Not What They Appear" by the Gothic Archies.

* "Frank" and "Ernest" both mean "sincere".

* "Henribergson", which Sunny Baudelaire emits as a reply to Mr. Poe, refers to Henri Bergson, an influential French philosopher of the 1900's.


*The eagles in the final picture of the Baudelaires and Olaf on the boat foreshadow the eagle attack on the hot-air balloon in "The End".


The American cover to this book has the same illustration as the British cover. "The Penultimate Peril" and "The End" are the only books in the series to use the same cover picture for both editions (although the British cover for "The Vile Village" had a redrawn version of the American cover).


* Russian: " _ru. Предпоследняя передряга", Azbuka, 2007, ISBN 978-5-352-02021-0

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