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Entertainment Weekly

Book Review by Karen Valby

Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography [sic]

Look up best-selling author Lemony Snicket on Amazon.com. According to the website, customers who bought his books also picked up copies of Jonathan Franzen's ''The Corrections'' and Ian McEwan's ''Atonement.'' Now keep in mind that Snicket stuff bears a recommendation that its readers be over the age of 10.

In the summer of ''Star Wars'' and ''Spider-Man,'' it should come as no real surprise that adults are turning to less ''mature'' fare. J.K. Rowling, who pumped her Harry Potter adventures with high drama and fully fleshed-out characters, spearheaded the massive reader migration to the children's section. Her books are best-sellers because kids and their parents and their parents' childless friends wanted to be part of the phenomenon; all fell for the old-fashioned storytelling. As she keeps her publisher and her public in suspense over when she'll turn in book 5, Snicket comes to the rescue with more adult-friendly kid reads. His new book -- Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography -- takes Rowling's baton and runs with it.

Snicket (né Daniel Handler) is the elusive author of ''A Series of Unfortunate Events,'' eight books with titles like ''The Hostile Hospital'' and ''The Austere Academy'' that chronicle the woeful misfortune of the three Baudelaire orphans. The books are quick, clever, and thoroughly uncondescending. In each installment, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny escape from the clutches of one Count Olaf and his menacing band of associates. The children sleep in abandoned hospitals, and, in one particularly startling episode, the Count tries to lobotomize Violet. Deliciously evil stuff.

Skipping straight to the autobio would be a most unfortunate introduction, as the book comes smothered in code and innuendo from past Baudelaire adventures. But fans of the series will relish the goose chase Snicket sets up here. The 13 chapters promise to answer burning questions (''Why has Mr. Snicket dedicated his life to the Baudelaire case?'' ''Are the Baudelaire parents really dead?''), but readers shouldn't expect much in the way of straightforward illumination.

Instead, they get cryptic pictures, doctored news articles, hidden clues, even a section dedicated to disguise training. The reversible dust jacket (''If the wrong people see you with this objectionable autobiography, the results could be disastrous'') is one of the book's best gags. Sure, the whole thing is a bit of a vanity project, a bizarre exercise in style and trickery, but it will whet the appetites of fans as they wait for the ninth book. Newcomers, though, should start with ''The Bad Beginning.''