"There are many pleasant things to read about, but this book contains none of them. Within its pages are such burdensome details as misleading newspaper headlines, unnecessary surgery, an intercom system, anesthesia, heart-shaped balloons, and some very startling news about such things."

Lemony Snicket's A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS number eight takes place mostly in a half-finished hospital in which the now-guardianless Baudelaire orphans find themselves after fleeing police. The last book had them running away from the village of V.F.D. after their friends escaped, and now they are accused of being murderers by a newspaper that prints all their names wrong but nonetheless displays an obvious picture of them. They send a Morse code message from a convenience store, hoping to get in touch with their guardian Mr. Poe, but before a response comes they are recognized by the store clerk and end up hiding away in . . . the van of V.F.D.

Volunteers Fighting Disease is an organization where everyone calls each other "brother" or "sister," and all they do is go to the hospital and sing a repetitive song while handing out heart-shaped balloons. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny pose as part of the organization, and they end up getting the job of working in the Library of Records as assistants to a man with very poor eyesight, as decreed by Babs, the director of Heimlich Hospital who is never seen but always heard via intercom. This is fortunate, for once, because they are hoping to go through the records and find out how Jacques, the man who was murdered in place of Count Olaf, was involved with their parents. But then, unfortunately (of course), they are not allowed to read any files; only to put away new ones (with the exception of Sunny, whose job is to open the busted filing cabinets with her teeth).

The siblings hatch a scheme to take advantage of their situation and replace some keys with a ribbon and paperclips, so that they can get into the library at night. They do so, though they feel guilty about tricking the man who'd been rather nice to them, and they try looking through the strangely-organized filing cabinets to find information about their case.

They finally find, under the name "Baudelaire," a file about themselves--however, only page 13 is still there. The rest has been removed by the authorities who are investigating the case. The Baudelaires want it, of course, in order to find out their connection to Jacques, but it turns out Count Olaf wants it too, to erase the evidence of his involvement in their affairs! They discover from the thirteenth page that there is evidence pointing to one of their parents still being alive, but before they can figure out what to do about it, they are treated to an unwelcome visitor.

Over the intercom comes the voice of Count Olaf, informing the hospital staff that he is the new director (with the disguise name of Mattathias). He says he is conducting an investigation of all the personnel, and it is not long before someone attempts to break into the library with the orphans. It turns out to be Esmé Squalor, Olaf's girlfriend, and she attempts to capture them but is slowed down by her stylish but not-very-functional stiletto heels. She tries to push filing cabinets down on them, but Klaus and Sunny escape out of a small tunnel. Violet is too big to fit, and she is captured by Esmé. Now Klaus and Sunny have to formulate a plan to find out where she is and rescue her.

The remaining siblings disguise themselves as Volunteers Fighting Disease again and roam around on the rounds with the singers, handing out balloons to sick people who really would rather have medical treatment. They do not find Violet in any of the rooms they enter, and they end up hiding in a storeroom to think things over. Over the intercom comes the news that the doctors, some of whom are disguised servants of Olaf, are planning to do a dangerous operation on none other than a fourteen-year-old girl. Klaus figures out where she must be by deciphering Isadora Quagmire's clue that anagrams are the key to revealing people's identities, and he unscrambles some patients' names until he finds one that is an anagram of Violet's name: Laura V. Bleediotie. He tracks her down to the surgical ward, with himself and Sunny dressed as doctors, and they manage to pass themselves off to the phony doctors as other phony doctors. Posing as villains allows them to hear some of the nasty things Olaf wants to do: Kill two of them and keep one to use to get the fortune from Mr. Poe. They are about to eliminate Violet by making Klaus cut off her head with a rusty knife.

As Violet lies drugged on the gurney, Klaus and Sunny pretend to be doctors in front of an auditorium full of doctors, Volunteers, and other interested parties. They begin to stall for time, hoping Violet will wake up, but their stalling makes the others suspicious, and they are then revealed as impostors when the people they are impersonating actually show up. Suddenly the whole hospital is after the Baudelaires for being murderers, and Klaus's holding a rusty knife is used to tarnish his reputation. Then it is discovered that someone has set the Library of Records on fire to make it look like the Baudelaires did it to erase evidence of their involvement. Everyone turns against them, and they flee, pushing Violet on her gurney as she begins to wake up.

Crouched in a closet, they have to think fast. Violet, in spite of her wooziness, manages to invent a fake loudspeaker that distracts everyone when she uses it to claim the orphans had been sighted in the unfinished half of the hospital and everyone should go there to capture them. They then construct a bungee cord out of rubber bands and bounce to safety. Unfortunately, the only escape for them turns out to be to stow away . . . in the trunk of Olaf's car. And that is literally the tightest spot on which the orphans have ever ended a book. Volume nine of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, The Carnivorous Carnival, continues their adventures in the belly of the beast.

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