"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."

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS number twelve is the next-to-last book in this series, as would be imagined by the title. In this one, the Baudelaire orphans begin their journey in a cab with a distraught pregnant woman named Kit Snicket, on their way to the Hotel Denouement.

The orphans must pose as concierges while trying to ferret out the secrets of the elusive sugar bowl, trying desperately to tell friend from foe through secret messages and clues and attempting to figure out who exactly the mysterious "J.S." is. Unfortunately, the children never know who they are communicating with because they don't know the associations of some of the people they talk to, which is complicated by the fact that the managers of the hotel, Frank and Ernest Denouement, are said to be on opposite sides of this feud, and the kids don't know who is who at any given time!

After separating for concierge duties (and spying!) and then returning to compare notes, the orphans realize how confused they are and how unsure they are about whether they've been helping the right side. More is made clear when they meet the mysterious and mythical Dewey Denouement, the third triplet, who must be on their side because he proves he was affiliated with their late father. He reveals to them that the hotel itself is not as important as the underwater catalog that resides in its lake, for which he is a sub-sub-librarian. Dewey charms the children by telling them that he would love to use their skills to help him after everything is over, but they have grown jaded by now and know that no one can protect them, and this turns out to be unfortunately so.

Olaf finally makes his appearance, the last in a long line of people showing up in this book from the Baudelaires' past. Like the Baudelaires, he has been having issues figuring out who to trust, and ends up trying to threaten Dewey to tell him the code words to unlock a door which supposedly protects the sugar bowl. Dewey gives some vague clues but Olaf is not satisfied, and through a horrible series of events the Baudelaires cause the gun to be dropped and a fatal accident occurs.

The orphans and Olaf are made to stand trial in front of many hotel guests with heaps of protests and evidence, but soon they discover that with the exception of Justice Strauss, the judges in charge of their trial are despicable villains from an earlier book as well. They are forced to recognize that in their case justice probably will NOT be served, and they actually end up working WITH Olaf to break the lock, set a fire, and escape. Strangely enough, Olaf in turn admires the skills of each of the orphans, and the kids learn that Olaf's parents were killed just like theirs were in some V.F.D. feud.

The burning hotel will serve as the signal to the honorable volunteers of V.F.D. that the meeting has been cancelled and the last safe place destroyed, and the sugar bowl will remain hidden. No rendezvous with the Quagmire triplets or any of their other friends is in the stars now. And off they go to an unknown future in a boat with Count Olaf, knowing they wish to be noble but knowing they've done some very NOT noble things. What could such a strange and terrible partnership be leading to? We're sure to find out in the next book, which will be the last. . . .

The book's theme is figuring out who to trust, and it highlights the fact that "comparatively innocent" does not always mean that a person is blameless.

The next volume, The End, concludes their adventures.

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