Thriller: Erin Kelly’s The Skeleton Key

Today the Matchmakers team welcomes guest blogger Michele Hirschfeld, an avid mystery reader. Michele writes:

British author Erin Kelly’s latest novel, The Skeleton Key, is a bold and refreshing mystery thriller unlike any I’d read before. It’s based on her lasting fondness for an illustrated children’s book called Masquerade, by Kit Williams, which provides riddles leading to clues that solve the book’s mystery. In Erin Kelly’s adult iteration, we meet Sir Frank Churcher, the fictional author of the fictional book The Golden Bones. Fifty years ago, he wrote a beautifully illustrated book of mythology and logic puzzles that have engaged readers worldwide in a treasure hunt. It brought him fame, wealth, and a dangerously obsessive cult following who call themselves Bonehunters. In 2021, the book’s 50th anniversary, Sir Frank is releasing an updated edition, with a modernized treasure hunt.

Based on an ancient folk song telling about a murdered woman named Elinore, whose bones were scattered across England, The Golden Bones has clues leading readers to seven burial sites of tiny bejeweled golden bones that represent different parts of her skeleton. The seventh and final piece of Elinore, her pelvis, has never been found.

Sir Frank, his family, and the Lalley family, who live in the enjoined mansion property next door, are all in attendance at the launch party of this new edition. So is a documentary film crew, plus a large, overly excited gathering of Bonehunters that is barely contained by a police force. As Sir Frank performs his dramatic revelation of where the final golden bone is buried, he instead kicks off a murder investigation. Thus two wealthy, eccentric, closely entwined and dysfunctional families unearth their own corrosive hidden secrets as they become embroiled in this menacing and enthralling treasure hunt.

It’s disappointing when mystery authors wrap up the action by disabling the protagonist while the mustache-twirling villain stands over them and says, “well, since you’re about to die anyway I’ll describe all of my horrible deeds in great detail.” Author Erin Kelly has a natural talent for showing the path through her absorbing tale, not spoonfeeding it to her readers with lazy writing. This makes the impact of the final reveal all the more delightfully shocking.

I love the exquisitely layered storytelling and the realistic, complex characters. The many fine and relevant details that went into creating this lush tale made for an immersive story like those of my childhood, where I could get lost in the pages and vicariously live through everything that was happening. This is why The Skeleton Key is one of my favorite books of the year.

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