The Penultimate Peril

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The Penultimate Peril
Front cover of U.S. edition
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 Gothic fiction
Absurdist fiction
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
October 18, 2005
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 353
ISBN 0-06-441015-3
Preceded by The Grim Grotto
Followed by The End

The Penultimate Peril is the twelfth novel in the children's novel series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.


The Baudelaires are traveling with pregnant Kit Snicket to the Hotel Denouement where they start their new jobs as concierges; they are there to learn whether a mysterious "J.S." is helping V.F.D. or its enemies. Kit tells them there are two hotel managers: identical brothers Ernest, a villain, and Frank, a volunteer. She also mentions the sugar bowl, a mysterious item which is precious to both volunteers and villains.

Violet's first task takes her to the rooftop sunbathing salon, where she encounters Esmé Squalor, Carmelita Spats, and Daily Punctilio reporter Geraldine Julienne. She hears Esme and Geraldine discussing a cocktail party which J.S. supposedly will try to spoil, but is sent off by Carmelita to get her a harpoon gun. As she leaves, she overhears Esme mention that her fashionable eyewear are to watch the skies. She brings the harpoon gun back to the rooftop.

While Violet is on the roof, Klaus takes Sir and Charles (characters who appeared in The Miserable Mill) to the sauna. He overhears them talk about a party on Thursday, and someone male with the initials J.S. However, a manager enters the room and in asks Klaus to hang a flypaper-like roll of sticky paper outside the window, in order to catch and trap any falling birds.

At the same time Sunny meets Vice Principal Nero, Mr. Remora, and Mrs. Bass from The Austere Academy. She leads them to an Indian restaurant in the hotel, run by Hal from The Hostile Hospital. Sunny listens in to a conversation between Hal and Frank; they discuss J.S. and refer to J.S. as a woman, but then spot Sunny. A hotel manager gives her a lock to attach to the laundry room door.

At night, the Baudelaires converse, confused that each met a manager at the same time. Klaus attempts to put their stories together, and claims that a crow will bring the sugar bowl to the Hotel, will be shot down by the harpoon gun, fall onto the flypaper, and drop the sugar bowl into the laundry room vent.

During discussion, they see a man descending from the ceiling of the lobby. He claims to be a hotel manager named Dewey. The man tells them that there is a catalogue of valuable information at the bottom of the hotel's pond, which he has spent his entire life collecting. Then Justice Strauss (from The Bad Beginning) and Jerome Squalor (who appeared in The Ersatz Elevator) arrive by taxi; they both believed they were J.S. Justice Strauss has been working with the High Court to organize a trial for all of V.F.D.'s enemies, and Jerome has written a book called Odious Lusting After Finance, in order to bring more attention to Count Olaf's crimes. They claim that on Thursday, volunteers will hold a trial in the hotel and all villains will be brought to justice.

They encounter Count Olaf; Hugo, Colette and Kevin, the three carnival freaks who joined Olaf in The Carnivorous Carnival, quickly arrive. Olaf threatens Dewey with the harpoon gun Violet brought to the rooftop. The Baudelaires shield Dewey and approach Olaf as he counts to ten, however he is interrupted by the distinctive coughing of Mr. Poe, who has come from his room to investigate the loud noises. Count Olaf quickly shoves the gun into the Baudelaire's hands. Not expecting it, the Baudelaires accidentally drop the heavy gun to the ground. It discharges, and a harpoon impales Dewey, inflicting a fatal wound. As he dies he thinks of Kit Snicket who is the love of his life, and 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 - offers to take them away, but they cannot tell whether he is a volunteer or a villain, and they realize they cannot leave the scene of the crime. As the entire hotel is quickly awakened, the Baudelaires walk back into the hotel, and the taxi driver drives the cab away. Justice Strauss breaks the ensuing chaos up by demanding that the accused must be brought to justice in a legal trial, and both the Baudelaires and Count Olaf are locked in separate rooms until the trial.

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. In the trial, the phrase "justice is blind" is taken literally, and 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 villainous associates: the man with a beard but no hair, and the woman with hair but no beard. Olaf flees to the elevator, with a bound and gagged Justice Strauss and the Baudelaires in pursuit. Despite the Baudelaires telling everyone what has happened and they should take off their blindfolds, the villains respond that if they do so, they would be held in contempt of court, so everyone leaves them on.

The Baudelaires go with Olaf and Justice Strauss to the basement laundry room, believing the sugar bowl to be inside. They unlock the Vernacularly Fastened Door for Olaf, 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 agrees to help, because they also need an escape route as they are wanted by the authorities. Sunny then abruptly suggests that they burn down the Hotel, and Olaf agrees, instructing the children to start a fire in the laundry room.

In the elevator the Baudelaires press all of the buttons it stops on every floor, so they can inform everyone about the fire and the need to evacuate. However, everyone is still blindfolded and when Olaf shouts that the fire warning is a lie, some believe him.

On the roof, Klaus reveals that the sugar bowl fell into the pond and not into the laundry room. Using sheets from the laundry room, Violet makes a parachute for the boat to safely make it off the building. Justice Strauss attempts to stop the Baudelaires leaving on the boat, but Sunny apologetically and gently bites her hand and makes her let go. The boat floats safely down to the ocean, and the Baudelaires are left both literally and figuratively adrift "in the same boat" as Count Olaf. Flames engulf the Hotel Denouement as they sail away, with them not knowing if the people inside will survive or not.


  • On the last picture, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are with Count Olaf sailing at sea foreshadowing The End.[citation needed]

Cultural references and literary allusions[edit]

  • Both the hotel's name and, Frank, Ernest, and Dewey's surname are a reference to the literary term, dénouement.
  • Dewey's name is a reference to the Dewey Decimal System, which is how the entire hotel is organized.
  • It is mentioned that author Richard Wright asks the 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?" 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 Baudelaires' parents attended the show. Interestingly, there is the mention of Giuseppe Verdi who wrote La Forza del Destino, who is referred to as a legendary character by Count Olaf
  • The names of the two brothers, Frank and Ernest, are synonyms for truthful or honest, and refer to the phrase "You be frank, and I'll be earnest".
  • Frank has an evil brother named Ernest, which may be a reference to The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
  • "Henribergson", which Sunny Baudelaire emits as a reply to Mr. Poe, refers to Henri Bergson, an influential French philosopher of the 1900s.
  • Kit tells the children tea should be "bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." This is a reference to the Biblical verse Proverbs 5:4.
  • Odious Lusting After Finance, the book written by Jerome Squalor against injustice, is a backronym of "OLAF".
  • "Scalia", which Sunny says as a reply to either Frank or Ernest, is a reference to United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
  • Sunny says the word "efcharisto" which she says to Dewey meaning thank-you in Greek
  • Dewey said that his favourite section in the Dewey Decimal System was "020" which is About The Dewey Decimal system and Science.
  • The Baudelaires are locked in room 121, which is Epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. Count Olaf is locked in room 165, which is Fallacies and sources of error.


  • Finnish: "Ratkaisun rajoilla" (At the Borders of Solution), WSOY, 2006, ISBN 951-0-32089-7
  • Russian: "Предпоследняя передряга" (Penultimate Scrape), Azbuka, 2007, ISBN 5-352-02021-5
  • Persian: خطر ما قبل اخر"' (The Penultimate Risk)
  • Japanese: "終わりから二番目の危機" (The Second-to-Last Crisis), Soshisha, 2007, ISBN 978-4-7942-1623-6
  • Dutch: "Het voorlaaste gevaar" (The Penultimate Danger)
  • French: "Le Pénultième Péril" (The Penultimate Peril)