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The Penultimate Peril
The Penultimate Peril
Book Information

October 13, 2005



Number in Series

Book the Twelfth

Recurring Themes
Spine Color



Red flames with an orange background

Ex Libris

Top: Baudelaire Concierges
Bottom: Count Olaf

Beginning Image

The Baudelaires drive off with Kit Snicket, and a man is seen holding a "Hotel Denouement" envelope.

Baudelaires' Guardian

Dewey, Frank, and Ernest Denouement


Catalogued Hotel
Dewey Denouement's Underwater Library

Baudelaires' Disguise


Final Image

The Baudelaires are sailing with Count Olaf away from the burning Hotel Denouement.

Letter to the Editor



The Penultimate Peril is the twelfth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Plot Summary

The book starts with the Baudelaires in Kit Snicket's taxi, the situation at the end of The Grim Grotto. A distraught and pregnant Kit drives them to the Hotel Denouement, where 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 canceled. She also says that Quigley Quagmire, of whom Violet is very fond, 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 is designed like a giant library, with rooms cataloged by 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, in order to carry out various errands. Violet goes up to the rooftop sunbathing salon, where she finds Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats. Carmelita is 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 Olaf, was also present on the rooftop sunbathing salon. Violet overhears about a cocktail party on Thursday. Carmelita wants her to bring a harpoon gun, which Violet gets from Frank or Ernest. He asks her if she is who he thinks she is. Violet replies that she is a concierge and brings the gun to Carmelita.

Klaus goes to a room for people in the sawmill industry, where he finds Sir and Charles (from The Miserable Mill). They have him take them to the sauna, which is just down the hall. He props the door open to listen in, and overhears them talk about a party on Thursday, and someone with the initials of J.S. However, Frank or Ernest enters and he has Klaus 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 or Ernest 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. She 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 the sugar bowl will fall into the laundry room vent. All of a sudden, they see a man descending form the ceiling of the Hotel. They think it is Ernest or Frank, but it turns out to be Dewey Denouement, the third brother, also explaining how three different identical men talked to the Baudelaires at the same time. He is helpful and 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 communicating with the High Court on helping the Baudelaires, and Jerome - who also felt bad about how he treated the orphans - has written a book on the matter. 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 (of whom Klaus is very fond, due to their kiss in The Grim Grotto) stole the Carmelita (a submarine from The Grim Grotto named after Carmelita Spats). Esmé, Carmelita, and 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. 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 Baudelaire's accidentally drop the gun to the ground. It discharges and a harpoon hits Dewey, inflicting a fatal wound.

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 - (Possibly Lemony Snicket) 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. Lemony Snicket suggests that he has the sugar bowl in the passenger seat and a woman in his trunk, possibly The Duchess of Winnipeg. 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 with Count Olaf locked in another.

It is early Wednesday morning when the Baudelaires go to sleep, 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 is 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 the Man With a Beard But No Hair and the Woman With Hair But No Beard who have been working with Olaf. They and Olaf are fleeing with Justice Strauss gagged 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 clue, a clue about the Baudelaire's health (their allergy to peppermints mentioned in The Wide Window), and a clue about his own family: interestingly enough that his parents were killed with poison darts, suggesting the involvement of the Baudelaire parents - they break inside. The sugar bowl is not inside, however. 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 in a boat which he will jump in off the roof. Violet, realizing his plan is foolish, agrees to help. Klaus is surprised that she would do this but Violet knows that they need a way out as well, 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, they 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.


Introduced Characters

Reappearing Characters

Mentioned Characters

A Letter From Lemony Snicket

Dear Reader,

If this is the first book you found while searching for a book to read next, then the first thing you should know is that this next-to-last book is what you should put down first. Sadly, this book presents the next-to-last chronicle of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, and it is next-to-first in its supply of misery, despair, and unpleasantness.

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.

Next-to-last things are the first thing to be avoided, and so allow me to recommend that you put this next-to-last book down first, and find something else to read next at last, such as the next-to-last book in another chronicle, or a chronicle containing other next-to-last things, so that this next-to-last book does not become the last book you will read.

With all due respect,


Lemony Snicket

Beatrice Dedication

For Beatrice–
No one could extinguish my love,
or your house.

V.F.D. References

  • Four V.F.D. phrases are used: "The world is quiet here," "Are you who I think you are?" "Not many people have the courage to help with a scheme like this," and "I didn't realize this was a sad occasion."
  • Esmé mentions Beatrice, saying, "Beatrice stole the sugar bowl from me!" (p.221) Beatrice is the woman that Lemony writes all of his dedications to.
  • The dedication in the book implies that Beatrice's house was burned down, something that often happens to members of V.F.D.
  • First use of Sebald Code in the books. In the scene where Frank (or Ernest) explains to the Baudalaires the bell system. His message was "I can't tell if you are associates or enemies, please respond." The Baudalaires, illiterate to Sebald Code, did not understand the message, nor receive it.


Final Picture

In the last picture of The Penultimate Peril, one can see Count Olaf and the Baudelaire children sailing away from the smoking shore aboard a large ship. They are headed toward The Island where almost everything washes up eventually.

Letter to the Editor

NOTE: This was written on a napkin.

To My Kind Editor,

The end is near

With all due respect,



  • It is mentioned that Kit is waterskiing toward Captain Widdershins but it is a trap.
  • Fernald and Fiona are mentioned to have stolen the octopus submarine from Olaf
  • A taxi driver, presumably Lemony Snicket, offers the Baudelaires a ride. He mentions having a woman (possibly the Duchess of Winnipeg) inside the trunk and possibly the sugar bowl too.

Word Definitions

  • Penultimate - an elaborate term for the phrase 'next to last'
  • Flaneur - the Baudelaires are 'flaneurs' as the hotel concierge, meaning they can observe silently as outsiders to ongoing. Philosopher Charles Baudelaire was the first to coin this term, who is notable as being the inspiration for the surname of the Baudelaires.
  • Taciturn demeanor - "only to communicate when needed"


  • The book's title was not revealed until shortly before publication. A website called The Nameless Novel, operated by the publishers of the series, revealed the title through a series of puzzles gradually disclosed between July and October 2005.
  • "Penultimate," as seen in the title, means "next to last," which is literally what Book the Twelfth is. So, quite literally, the title means "The next to last peril."
  • The American cover has the same illustration as the British cover. The only other book in the series to use the same cover picture for both editions is The End.
  • Jerome's book of injustice, Odious Lusting After Finance, is a backronym of Olaf.

Real-World Allusions

Main Article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works

Name Allusions

  • Frank, Ernest, and Dewey's surname, Denouement, is a reference to the literary term dénouement, which refers to action that takes place between the falling action and the resolution of a plot.
  • Dewey's name is a reference to the Dewey Decimal System, which is how the entire hotel is organized.
  • Frank has an evil brother named Ernest, which may be a reference to The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
  • The names of Frank and Ernest are synonyms for truthful or honest, and refer to the phrase "You be frank, and I'll be earnest."

Setting Allusions

Plot Allusions

  • The term "flanuer" is used to describe the Baudelaire's silent observations of the hotel visitors. This term was first credited by the philosopher Charles Baudelaire to describe the "urban flanuer"; "the silent and solitary walker", primarily in the city who sees what others do not. This is of course a fitting reference and recall to this philosopher who was the original reference for the name of three protagonists.
  • 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 from the Italian opera La Forza del Destino, and it's mentioned that Baudelaires' parents attended the show.
  • Kit Snicket tells the children tea should be "bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword," 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."

Sunny’s Allusions

  • Sunny uses the word "Henribergson" as a reply to Mr. Poe, refers to Henri Bergson, referencing Henri Bergson, an influential French philosopher of the 1900s.
  • Sunny says "Scalia," meaning "The literal interpretation makes no sense!" This is a reference to United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, infamous for making a very literal interpretation of the law.
  • Sunny says the word "efcharisto" to Dewey. This translates to thank you in Greek.
  • Dewey said that his favorite section in the Dewey Decimal System was "020," which is about The Dewey Decimal system and Science.


Book Editions

Several editions of The Penultimate Peril have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Penultimate Peril (UK), The Penultimate Peril (UK Paperback) and La Pénultième Péril.

The Penultimate Peril (UK)

This edition has the same content as in the original one. The main difference here is the cover, which is black, has different fonts and a red spine. Some colors in Brett Helquist's cover illustration were also changed. The book is published by Egmont. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Penultimate Peril features a row of flames referencing the fire that destroys the Hotel Denouement. This is repeated on the back cover.

The Penultimate Peril (UK Paperback)

This is a paperback version of The Penultimate Peril released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape.

La Pénultième Péril

La Pénultième Péril is the French edition of The Penultimate Peril, published by Nathan Poche. It has a very different cover, Brett Helquist's illustration is not seen here, apart for a portrait of the Baudelaires. It is almost entirely black, with a white illustration of a bell.


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