Review: The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

 One of my resolutions this year was to read some of the dozens and dozens of book shelved on the TBR bookcase in my study.

Some have been there since they arrived as proof copies when I was bookseller (it was years ago – I’m never going to read those am I?) but most are more recent arrivals. And then there are the dozens on my Kindle…

I rarely, if ever, leave a bookshop empty-handed and so this year I decided to try to go no-buy on books. It’s not going badly although a few have sneaked in and besides, I have some book tokens and book tokens don’t count, do they?

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly sneaked in under the wire last December and I’m so glad it did.

It’s inspired by the story of Masquerade, an actual treasure hunt based on a book that captivated the public in the early 1980s as they decoded the clues in Kit Williams’ illustrations and hunted for the jewelled golden hare that was the buried treasure. I was only ten when it came out but I remember desperately wanting a copy of the book. You can see a documentary about Masquerade here.

In The Skeleton Key, the treasures that can be found after decoding the clues in the fairy story written by Frank Churcher are the bones of a golden skeleton, only one of which is yet to be found.

The book is narrated by Nell, Frank’s daughter who the more obsessive, murderous, Bonehunters have fixated on as the key to finding the last bone, unable to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fantasy. Persecuted, Nell has become reclusive.

Fifty years after the book’s publication, and with one golden bone still eluding the searchers, media interest is building and the family are gathering for the making of a documnetary and the launch of a new treasure hunt. But when Frank finally reveals the location of the last bone, Nell’s world and that of those around her explodes.

I’ve loved Erin’s work since a publisher’s rep first gave me a proof of The Poison Tree, her debut, and I’m always impressed by the way she creates a setting and a cast and and a truly propulsive narrative. The obsession of the Bonehunters is almost palpable and there’s a growing unease about what they’ll do next.
If you like a pyschological thriller this is the book for you, although it’s so much more than those endless dramas subtitled ‘absolutely gripping/unputdownable/addictive’ and so on.

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