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Clues, Few Answers, in Latest Snicket


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``The End: Book the Thirteenth'' by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Brett Helquist; HarperCollins Children's Books ($12.99)

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Lemony Snicket is a bad, bad man.

The vile Count Olaf may be the lead villain of the multimillion-selling ``A Series of Unfortunate Events.''

But it is Snicket, alter ego of author Daniel Handler, who tortures faithful readers by offering up a maddeningly ambiguous ``The End'' to his 13-book series about the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny.

Which makes Snicket the true villain of this book. It is he, after all, who has pulled readers along for thousands of pages of mournful beach of sandy prose awash in questions. And it is he who twists each answer to those questions into yet more questions, then casts readers adrift with this final installment, which is being released, appropriately, on Friday the 13th.

So, did you really expect to find out what happened that fateful day when the Baudelaire mansion and parents vanished in a fire? Hah! Did you really think he'd tell you what happened to the Quagmire triplets? Hah-hah! And did you really think he would reveal who is the real father of Kit Snicket's baby? Well, hah! And then again, maybe, nah!

You will get hints - lots of them, but most of them trickle off in as many different directions as ants at a 100-person picnic. Which I suppose is in keeping with the series, which made its mournful debut in 1999, has sold more than 51 million copies worldwide, has spent 700 weeks on The New York Times best-sellers list and was made into a box-office hit starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep.

That's a lot of misery to go around.

While few would compare Handler with Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, both did masterful jobs of changing the playing field of children's literature. Rowling kicked off an appetite for fantasy while breaking taboos about appropriate length and subject matter for kids. Handler, too, broke the rules by eschewing just rewards and happy endings.

He continues to break rules, dropping names from classic literature, using vocabulary and wit considered far too advanced for the age group. And now he has his imitators, most notably ``The Spiderwick Chronicles,'' which also sports three siblings on a mysterious quest.

Still, there is only one voice persnickety enough to be Lemony Snicket from The Bad Beginning'' toThe End,'' which is why we are putting that shadowy figure on notice. Snicket, you can tell us, as you do in the final book, that we can never truly know a beginning or an end. But that, in short, is the one way in which art trumps life. Art can give us beginning and an end (and if we're very good, maybe even a middle).

So don't even think of shutting off the spigot now, when there's still much more we need to know about Beatrice and Lemony and those we dare not name for fear of reader reprisal.

No, the only way you can make it up to us, Snicket, is to give us more. It's your book and you can cry if you want to. Just get back to typing.

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(c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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