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'The End' leaves readers on edge

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How eager are Lemony Snicket fans to find out how A Series of Unfortunate Events ends -- and to see who lives and who dies?

So eager that they've propelled The End, the 13th and final volume, to No. 1 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list after a few days of sales.

Published Friday the 13th, of course, The End sold about 25% more books than No. 2, John Grisham's non-fiction The Innocent Man, published three days earlier.

"That makes me kind of nervous," says Daniel Handler, the series' author who pretends to be Snicket's representative on a book tour that's taken on the trappings of a touring rock star.

"I think of John Grisham as someone you should be behind, not in front of," Handler says.

The 11th and 12th books in the series about the three Baudelaire orphans and the terrible things they survive also hit No. 1 on the list.

Handler says his favorite comment about the unresolved questions in The End came from a young girl who told him, "I have a problem with the great unknown."

"So do all of us," he replied.

Patricia Kelly, 10, of Northport, N.Y., who stayed up all night Friday to read The End, says it's "great fun to read but left many questions and puzzles unsolved. I want more!"

She cares only about the orphans and "if Beatrice Baudelaire is alive."

SPOILER ALERT!!! (Don't read the next three paragraphs if you don't want to know the ending.)

Two characters die: the evil Count Olaf, who is poisoned by a fungus, and Kit Snicket, Lemony's noble sister.

Patricia was saddened by Kit's death but not surprised by Olaf's demise: "The bad guy always dies at the end."

Of Olaf's death, Handler says only, "That's how the story goes," and is reminded of what's said at Passover Seders: "One should never rejoice in the death of another, no matter how unpleasant that person may be."

In Denver, Carlos Perez, 12, figured The End "wouldn't end all neat and tidy-like. And I was right. It leaves something for your imagination, but that's a little frustrating."

On the first stops on his tour, Handler drew 1,000 fans in New York and 800 in Natick, Mass. He reads and plays the accordion, accompanied by Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields. They've recorded a CD of songs inspired by the series, The Tragic Treasury.

On the tour, the wait for Handler's autograph -- actually, he hand-stamps each book -- has been so long, up to seven hours, that some readers have finished the 347-page book while in line.

Handler says he's "not aware of any plans" by Snicket to write more about the Baudelaire orphans, "but their story isn't over, any more than it began in The Bad Beginning."

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© Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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