Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st September 2022 from Hodder & Stoughton
My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an advance copy for review
THIS REUNION WILL TEAR A FAMILY APART …
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.
Erin Kelly is one of my ‘go to’ authors when I am looking for compelling, intelligent story telling that leaves a lasting impression. The Skeleton Key does all of that and more. It is rich, full of character, intricately layered and absolutely excels in the richness of dysfunctional family dynamics and toxic relationships.
I’ve said before that I admire good plotting, enjoy dark mysteries and love a good thriller, but nothing puts me more in awe of an author than the ability to make characters live and breathe on the page. Erin Kelly has that ability in spades and it is what draws me back to her books every time. She is an understated writer, but her books are full of nuance, layered and complex with characters whose lives you feel you understand because they are so well drawn. She especially does bohemian characters really well and that always makes me smile.
The Skeleton Key is the story of two close dysfunctional families, the lies they tell, the casual neglect of their children and the monstrous ego of at least one of their number.
This story belongs to Eleanor, the daughter of Frank and Cora Churcher. Frank is a famous artist, his fame having come from sales of a best-selling book, The Golden Bones, a richly illustrated treasure hunt based on an old folk song, which offers clues to a golden, jewel encrusted treasure in the form of a skeleton, parts of which are buried across the British Isles. Kit Harrington’s Masquerade was such a book, but the mystery of The Golden Bones has endured now for 50 years and become almost mythological.
Over the years many pieces have been found, but one piece, the pelvis, has remained elusive. A cult has built up over the years, drawing fanatics and sometimes dangerous and violent obsessives to its core, alongside genuine treasure hunters, passionate about finding all the pieces and ensuring the skeleton can be put back together again.
It is a quest which has put Eleanor (Nell) in danger more than once and which led both to her estrangement from her family and to Nell living life as much off the grid as she is able.
Now the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Golden Bones draws near and Nell has come back to finally see the pieces reunited and the treasure hunt brought to a close. No-one is more relieved than Nell.
But the path to Nell’s peace of mind is of course not straightforward and as events unfold in the lead up to this ‘Golden Anniversary’ many disturbing secrets will come to light and two close families will be riven apart. In a dual timeline story which moves effortlessly between past and present, Kelly brings every character to life so brilliantly.
Verdict: Erin Kelly has delivered another massively compelling, beautifully imagined, page-turner full of richly drawn characters, secrets upon secrets in a book which is both fabulously original and so layered it falls into the millefeuille category. Beautifully written, full of seriously flawed characters and lots of toxicity, this book is both riveting and unmissable. The Skeleton Key is undoubtedly a top ten book of 2022.
Erin Kelly is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose, The Burning Air, The Ties That Bind, He Said/She Said, Stone Mothers/We Know You Know, Watch Her Fall and Broadchurch: The Novel, inspired by the mega-hit TV series. In 2013, The Poison Tree became a major ITV drama and was a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011. He Said/She Said spent six weeks in the top ten in both hardback and paperback, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year award, and selected for both the Simon Mayo Radio 2 and Richard & Judy Book Clubs. She has worked as a freelance journalist since 1998 and written for the Guardian, The Sunday Times, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Red, Elle and Cosmopolitan. Born in London in 1976, she lives in north London with her husband and daughters.