Snicket engages in some serious moral wrangling in this volume, and forces the reader to do the same. At a crucial moment, the Baudelaire orphans meet a woman who wants to be a good, strong person -- but because her motto is "give people what they want," she can always be manipulated by villains, and always tells herself that she *must* be a good person, because isn't giving people what they want a good thing to do? The simple answer, "Not if they want bad things!" never seems to occur to her.
It occurs to the Baudelaires, of course. Partly because they're nobler than she is. Partly because they desperately need her help. In the course of trying to persuade her to give them what they *need*, they're forced to admit that in spite of their best intentions, they seem to be sliding down a slippery moral slope:
"'Haven't you ever found yourself doing something you never thought you'd do?'
'I guess so,' Klaus said, and turned to his sisters. 'Remember when we stole those keys from Hal, at the Library of Records? I never thought I'd be a thief.'
'Flynn,' Sunny said, which meant something like, 'And I never thought I would become a violent person, but I engaged in a sword fight with Dr. Orwell.'
'We've all done things we never thought we'd do,' Violet said, 'but we always had a good reason.'
'Everybody thinks they have a good reason,' Olivia said."
This is the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events to end on a really suspenseful cliffhanger. I'm glad I wasn't an early adopter with these books. I would have hated to have to wait a whole year to see what happened next.