The Skeleton Key, Erin Kelly

5/5 Stars!!!

Twisted-toxic family dynamics, sordid secrets, and a treasure hunt with tragic outcomes along the way -this is The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly. This deeply disturbing book follows the Churcher and Lally families who live in semi-detached houses next to one another and have grown up with another, sharing everything; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When Sir Frank Churcher creates a book called The Golden Bones -a part treasure hunt, part picture book about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton is scattered around England, he creates a phenomenon that will span across generations and cause havoc along the way. The book hides clues and easter eggs to lead the reader to sites where parts of the jewelled skeleton are hid. One by one they are found but Elinore’s pelvis is still missing. A community of readers and treasure hunters of The Golden Bones quickly form as the book generates popularity and they call themselves the Bonehunters, with the majority being cult followers or fanatical figures desperate for that last bone; and they’ll do just about anything to get it.

This has affected the Churcher-Lally family but it has especially plagued Nel, Frank’s daughter. Stalked by fans throughout her life, she has become estranged from her family and distanced herself from all association with them and the book as much as humanly possible; even making the decision to live on a boat so she can sail away should a bonehunter find her location. However, she must now face her family again and along with all the negatives that the book has brought to her life as the reissuing of the anniversary edition is announced, along with a new treasure hunt for the tech age and a film crew making a documentary out of the whole thing. As filming begins, a series of events unravels as the whereabouts of the last bone is revealed, technical leaks emerge, and a downwards spiral ensues for everyone; one that’s been in the works for years.

Even among The Golden Bone obsessives, the odds of two nutters being so far gone they’re willing to carve up an innocent young woman must be vanishingly small

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Set in the summer of 2021, the book switches back and forth between time stamps and viewpoints as more secrets and power plays are revealed. The plot thickens so they say but man, this book does a wonderful job of it! The plot line is so skilfully laid out that while a lot happens that incites sympathy, it also raises the feeling of unease and some thought-provoking questions; especially as it draws to a close. Erin Kelly really did a phenomenal job with this book.

The characters were also wonderfully established. They all felt like they belonged and they were natural to the storyline rather than feeling like extra bodies which I did wonder going into this. Instead, the two families were entwined and linked in so many ways that added such layers to the plot. It all felt messy and incestuous but also not at the same time -it’s hard to describe without revealing spoilers.

I will say, if you’re hoping for a detailed tale about a treasure hunt then you won’t get it. It’s more about the characters, the events and the happenings surrounding the book and the hunt, rather than the details of the hunt itself. Its focus is on the workings of everyone behind the scenes of the book and attracted to it, and how their lives are affected as a result of these ties.

This really was a fantastic read. It was so beautifully detailed and enriched with plot twists and secrets; which all had an overarching dark quality to them. I would have to say it was one of my favourite books of this year to read; but one that I think I could reread in a few years and find it just as enjoyable again. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves mysterious or darker works of fiction that keep you guessing. You would be hard pressed to find another book like this or on the same level.

Cheerio for now!

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