‘The Skeleton Key’ by Erin Kelly

Author : Erin Kelly
Title : The Skeleton Key
Pages : 512
Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date : September 1, 2022


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 an author who always keeps you guessing. No novel of hers is anything like any other novel of hers, so you never quite know what you’re going to get. This is why I have a rather complicated relationship with her work, I think. I will adore one book, and feel rather meh about another one. ‘The Skeleton Key‘ lands somewhere in between the two for me.

The positives are mostly with the characterisation. These two families are immensely entwined, kind of like a bunch of Christmas lights you can’t seem to untangle. The parents have been friends for decades, the son of one family is married to the daughter of the other family. There is a lot of history here, decisions that were made for the good of the two families, secrets that are being kept hidden for the same reason. But all is about to fall apart.

One book has influenced these families’ lives in more ways than one. It brought them fame and money. But it also brought them stalkers, nutters and a whole lot of pain. Especially for Nell, who is an obsession for a whole community of people who are enthralled with treasure hunts. Nell isn’t like the other family members. She made a choice to try and distance herself from the lot of them, and leads a very different life. From the very beginning, I struggled to understand why she would have anything to do with these celebrations. Her father’s book, ‘The Golden Bones‘, pretty much ruined her life. If that had been me, I wouldn’t have come anywhere near this anniversary.

To be fair, I had issues with a lot of the decisions these characters made over the years. By way of flashbacks, the readers learns a lot about all of them, and very little of it is good. Frank especially is a total jerk. It’s the revelations about his actions that will influence the outcome of this story, and lead to a rather thought-provoking moment where the reader can try to decide which side of the fence they’d fall on.

The mystery of the missing golden bone is really secondary, and to be honest, for most of the book I wasn’t at all interested in its whereabouts. Even though the obsession with it runs like a thread through this story. However, this is definitely a character-driven novel with a focus on the many, mostly bad, decisions these characters have made throughout the years. Unfortunately for me, I found most of it a struggle. I didn’t particularly like the characters. I often couldn’t understand their behaviour or motivations, both in the past and present. They seemed to knowingly and stubbornly remain part of dysfunctional families and extremely toxic relationships for reasons that made no sense to me. It made me quite sad to realise their lives could have been so much different if they’d been in any way smart/brave/something enough to step away from the one they were living.

The pace was rather on the slow side, which doesn’t have to be a problem, but I found it was in this case. This is one of those novels where you finish and think it could quite easily have been at least a hundred or more pages shorter. Mostly, ‘The Skeleton Key‘ left me immensely conflicted. It wasn’t at all what I expected from the book description and, even as I write this review, I’m still not entirely sure I liked what I did get. Yet, I’m not annoyed I read it, nor did it feel like a waste of time. Could I possibly be any more conflicted, you ask? No, I don’t think I can be. Neither has it put me off reading whatever Erin Kelly comes up with next because I know that whatever it is, it will surprise me once again.

The Skeleton Key is out today! Many thanks to the publisher for the advanced review copy, which I received via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Bookshop UK

  7 comments for “‘The Skeleton Key’ by Erin Kelly

  1. September 1, 2022 at 10:15 am

    This is going to be my first read by this author. 🤔❤📚

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 1, 2022 at 11:34 am

      Hope you have a better experience with it than I did, Sandy! I’ll be keeping everything crossed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 2, 2022 at 9:28 am

        Thanks. I’m planning on reading it over the weekend. ❤📚


  2. September 1, 2022 at 11:23 am

    I love the cover and the story sounds goo,but the slowness really puts me off. Fab review! x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. September 2, 2022 at 12:09 am

    Oh dear! I’ve had a pretty mixed reaction to Kelly in the past and hesitated over whether I should request this one from NetGalley. I fear I may have made the wrong decision… 😱


  4. September 4, 2022 at 12:46 am

    This is a great review. Being that it’s mixed I don’t think it sounds for me – at least I don’t feel like I’m missing out. 😊 Thank you


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