The Unfortunate Events series features the Baudelaire siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. Their parents are killed in a terrible fire and they are sent to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf, whom it transpires is an extremely neglectful and one could even say hostile relative, intent only on separating the orphans from the large fortune left to them by their parents. The siblings live with Olaf throughout The Bad Beginning; thereafter the series becomes somewhat formulaic, with the siblings sent by the rather unhelpful bank employee Mr. Poe, who is in charge of their care, to live with a succession of ever more distant relatives, where they are inevitably tracked down and once more troubled by the wearisome Count Olaf. After The Vile Village, the Baudlaires are forced to flee authorities who accuse them of murder, taking them to equally miserable locations at the Heimlich Hospital, the Caligari Carnival, and the Mortmain Mountains.
The series' mastery of the narrative voice, lugubrious humour, occasional vocabulary lessons and Gothic mood have earned it considerable sales and critical plaudits. It is expected to consist of 13 volumes when finished, each with 13 chapters.
Each volume begins with a dedication to the memory of Lemony Snicket's beloved Beatrice (e. g. "When we first met I felt breathless. Now you are."). The books' back-cover blurbs, also written by Handler, warn the reader of the dreadful things described within each volume and respectfully suggest reading something else instead.
Mr. Snicket himself is an ingenious creation. Handler originally came up with the name as a pseudonym when he found himself unwilling to place his real name on the mailing lists of several right-wing organisations he was researching for one of his novels. It became something of an in-joke with his friends, who were known to order pizzas under the name. When he rather unexpectedly found himself writing a series of children's books, he decided to use the Snicket name to add an air of mystery to proceedings; Lemony Snicket is an elusive figure. Handler has a considerable amount of fun with the Snicket character in the author biography sections of the books, in a page at the end of every book where Snicket makes complicated arrangements for the delivery of the manuscript of the next book to his publisher, on the Lemony Snicket website and in Snicket's Unauthorized Autobiography. He is described, among other things, as having been born beside the sea and now living underneath it, as a distinguised scholar, and as having been stripped of the Honorable Mention and the Grey Ribbon.