Book Review of ‘The Skeleton Key’ by Erin Kelly


Summer, 2021.
Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.

The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse.

But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank finally reveals the whereabouts of the missing golden bone. And then all hell breaks loose.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s got a fascinating premise which is built upon with layers of family secrets, power struggles and complex relationships. Although this is a mystery novel rather than fantasy, there were plenty of magical and colourful elements to keep a wide range of readers interested.

There are some really carefully thought-through elements at play in this novel. I enjoyed the involvement of the parallel families and generations, the cult-following of The Golden Bones and there were a few great twists towards the end. I also felt that Nell and Billie living on a boathouse was a really clever way of showing how much Nell had separated her life from that of the rest of her family and rejected the legacy of her father’s book.

I found that ‘The Skeleton Key’ reads very much like a YA book; in fact my only criticism is that I struggled a little to visualise the main character, Nell, as a forty-year-old rather than someone in their early twenties. I did wonder whether Billie was originally written as the protagonist.

Overall, I can see ‘The Skeleton Key’ being a smash hit on the bookshelves this autumn. The gorgeous cover highlights is dark, gothic themes and perfectly sets up the novel’s tone.

Thank you to NetGalley UK, Erin Kelly and Hodder and Stoughton for an ARC of ‘The Skeleton Key’ in return for my honest review.

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