The Skeleton Key

Tense, unpredictable and utterly gripping

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Pub Date 1 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 2 Sep 2022

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'Moody, propulsive, and one of the most intriguing set ups I've read in years. Erin Kelly doesn't put a foot wrong in this atmospheric, original thriller' GILLIAN McALLISTER


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.

From the bestselling author of He Said/She Said and Watch Her Fall, this is a taut, mesmerising novel about a daughter haunted by her father's legacy . . .

'A feat of real ambition and imagination - original, suspenseful, and with complex characters that spring irresistibly to life on the page, this is Erin Kelly at her finest' LOUISE CANDLISH

'Erin Kelly excels at twisted family dynamics and toxic, compelling characters, and this glorious slice of bohemian gothic showcases all her strengths' RUTH WARE

'Scary, eerie, moving and compelling: a beautifully-plotted, gorgeously-written triumph of a thriller' NICCI FRENCH

'An intricately plotted thriller, full of detail and invention, with impeccably realised settings and characters as monstrous as they are believable. Above all it is a completely addictive story of two families destroyed by success. Erin Kelly is a genius' JANE CASEY

'A twisted treasure hunt with a fatal family secret at its heart. Powerful, playful and deeply disturbing. I loved it' SARAH HILARY

'A blisteringly good read. I simply couldn't put it down' LUCY DAWSON

'A unique storyteller; impossible to predict, impossible to put down' JOHN MARRS

'Moody, propulsive, and one of the most intriguing set ups I've read in years. Erin Kelly doesn't put a foot wrong in this atmospheric, original thriller' GILLIAN McALLISTER


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ISBN 9781473680883
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Featured Reviews

A book that starts with a quiet pace yet before I knew it I was hooked - glued to the page, the story taking me on a rollercoaster ride.

What defines or even validates an individual human being? A spouse, family, work, values, money, being strong or successful?

Proverbial fireworks and perhaps even real time goosebumps is what you'll get with The Skeleton Key. And that's even before the smashing finale with the epilogue.

It all comes down to two words: power and pettiness.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of the book.

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I'm just going to start this review by saying that The Skeleton Key is my book of the year. It's a beautiful, intricate magic box of a book; layer after layer of myth, mystery, thriller and family secrets, gorgeous prose and a plot so gripping, so tight, it's impossible to put down.

At the centre of The Skeleton Key is a quest which has cost marriages, sanity, and even lives. Erin Kelly presents this, so cleverly, as a tale within a tale; the quest for the golden bones of Elinore, as imagined in a bestselling book written decades ago, shimmers with its own life. But the lives built around the legendary book, with its devoted army of followers, are each affected by it; all who are touched by the search are also touched by tragedy.

The Skeleton Key a tale that is both gritty and shocking, yet also ethereal and haunting. It's like nothing I've ever read; a dizzying blend of taut thriller and gothic beauty, it also examines the meaning of family. There are dark themes here, but they are handled with great sensitivity; everything about this book is elegant, intelligent.

Gorgeous, stunning, devastating perfection.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I can always rely on Erin Kelly to come up with something original, intriguing and interesting. This amazing plot is similar to a fairytale treasure hunt, resulting in murder and lies. It's one heck of a thriller and I loved the quirky characters.

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I absolutely loved this book. I couldn't sleep because I wanted to keep reading kinda good. Its a very clever story about a treasure hunt type book and the effects it had on the family that created it, invested in it, tried to solve it and others that fell into its path.
The main protagonist is Nell, the daughter of the author of this gripping bok - The Golden Bones. Nell struggles to trust others and lives a life in the shadows as she fears those that hunt the 'bones'. This makes it sound like its a horror, which I can assure you it is not. It's a pure thriller.

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#TheSkeletonKey #NetGalley
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.
I loved it very much and enjoyed it.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder Straughten for giving me an advance copy.

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I really got sucked into "The Skeleton Key" by Erin Kelly. Having grown up looking at my best friend's parents' copy of Masquerade by Kit Williams, I totally get the whole frantic treasure hunt scene that happened. What is even more brilliant is the two very close families and mystery-thriller narrative that carries on at the same time. Both stories are excellent and combined, they make a thrilling read. Kept me enthralled for many days.

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Erin Kelly is an author I will always follow as they continually deliver high quality stories that always exceed my expectations and this book is one more example of this astonishing writer. It is a bewitching story that I will not forget. Bravo!

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I was delighted to receive this ARC, a dark twisty thriller - kept me engrossed from the moment I started. Erin Kelly is a genius to come up with such a plot!

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Eleanor Churcher lives a life of a recluse, off the grid, far away from her famous family. But there are people, who are fascinated by her and would give everything to meet her. Or cut her into bits. This is a setting of a newest book by Erin Kelly, “The Skeleton Key”. The book goes back between present and the past, where we find out about the unusual book, “The Golden Bones”, written by Eleanor’s father, Frank. The book is a story of a murdered fair maiden, Elinore, but is also full of clues that sent readers, called Bonehunters, on a mad chase after seven sites, containing seven parts of her skeleton. In the present storyline the Churchers are preparing for a big 50th anniversary of the book, but of course something goes wrong.
This was one of the most gripping books I have read in some time – I was on tenterhooks most of the time, there were so many twisty and turny parts in the story that I squealed frequently and did not manage to predict any of them. But this is not just a thriller, the book reads almost like a fairy tale, about an ugly duckling that shies away from its close-knitted family. It is also a story about art, about being an artist, about family legacy, and about who owns the rights to the main character – the fans, the author or maybe someone else?
The characters are not always likeable, secrets, love, lust and betrayals are many, and the atmosphere feels like a dark thriller and a creepy Grimm tale. A homage to a famous “Masqyarade” by Kit Williams, “The Skeleton Key” is a creepy tale of an obsession that leads us to the darkest corners of our souls.

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This is first book I have read by Erin Kelly, it won’t be my last.

I was instantly hooked by the beautiful cover when I saw this on NetGalley I was further drawn in reading the synopsis :


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.

So I was delighted to receive a ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers Hodder and Stoughton.


The novel is structured in way that slips into the past from the present day, where we hear from Nell in the first POV in the present, while in the past we have snippets told in the first POV from other key characters. This structure works well it creates a feel of slow burning eerie tension, almost like a sense of pending doom. The flashbacks were the best parts from me as they really opened up and developed the cast of characters from a completely different stance from what we hear from Nell’s reflections of the past.
That being said the characters are equally if not more monstrous when hearing directly from them. Kelly has created a lot characters in this novel, at the beginning I felt perhaps too many characters but as the novel processes each one plays a key role in expanding and tidying up the plot nicely.

The main protagonist is Nell, I’ll be honest I wasn’t overly keen on Nell she was a bit whiney and moral for my taste I found myself furiously disagreeing with Nell’s moral standpoint throughout, however as a character Kelly has created someone who illustrates the madness and up roar the “ The Golden Bones” has caused and in that sense she is the perfect narrator.

At first glance I thought the book was going to be, a sort fiction come puzzle book with the family story playing second fiddle to the treasure hunt, I thought we might even get to see the “the golden bones “ illustrations to play “ bonehunters”. Kelly opens with a authors note telling the background of the concept of “the golden bones” which has been loosely based on the 70’s real life treasure hunt picture book Masquarade which sparked the beginning of arm chair treasure hunters. This was something I had never heard off and it really intrigued me. I was looking forward to a classic family sage with some mystery intertwined with clues etc to solve “the golden bones”. This however is nothing like my first thoughts it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The treasure hunt merely acts as a gateway to what is a often a macabre family saga full of disturbing secrets . It is the story of two families destroyed by success, power, jealously and pettiness. With deeply disturbing twists and turns the treasure takes a back seat and instead you are drawn into a twisted toxic family dynamic where deep issues are explored with true insight and brilliant imagination by Kelly. The book explores so many topical issues in a unique way. Very much not what I was expecting at all.

The pacing of the novel was fairly slow in the first two parts I found it moved very slowly and at times I was bored, the flashbacks with the eerie sense of something about to kick kept me reading in these lags, that being said the book may start with a quiet pace yet before I knew it I was hooked. By part three where it is all set in the past I was gripped. This a book that is rare in the fact it starts of slow and still had me reading, when it really takes off the pace is slow but increases in thrilling tension that is creepy, eerie, moving and compelling: well plotted and gorgeously-written, it is full of detail, invention and imagination. And that's even before the smashing finale and unsettling epilogue. The truth is most certainly outed in a speculator fashion with a deeply disturbing twist. I loved it

A truly unique fresh take on a classic format…fabulous story telling

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The Skeleton Key is a remarkable novel. It is the story of a treasure hunt that has become more real than real life for its dedicated players. It is not long before it ceases to be a game.

The story is driven by a book, The Golden Bones, published in 1971, and the inspiration for generations of bone hunters, seeking Elinore’s bones to resurrect her skeleton. It is essentially a book of riddles and puzzles where the answers reveal the locations of the missing bones.

The Skeleton Key is beautifully plotted. It flits between different time periods from the late 60s to the present day. Two families live next door to each other, tied by both the present and the past. Post pandemic references quickly orient the novel in the present day. Yet references to the Bonehunters create an otherworldly feeling alongside the reality of twenty first century London. Readers are cleverly drawn into this parallel world by a writer at the height of her powers.

In many ways, it is a story about stories: the fairytales and myths that somehow become tangled with real life. And also about family: how we are doomed to live the lives on the landscape prepared by those who came before us.

Erin Kelly weaves a tapestry that will draw in lovers of games, puzzles and orienteering as well as those who just want a great story. This is her best novel yet.

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'The Skeleton Key' by Erin Kelly is utterly mesmerising tale, weaving dual timelines to create a complex web of obsession, secrets and even a fortune hunt.
'The Skeleton Key' focuses on the joint Churcher and Lally families in the days leading to the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book/treasure hunt 'The Golden Bones' The book is a work of fiction, based on old ballads, mixed with mythology, geography and science. There is a puzzle hidden in the pages of the book and this has lead to a half-century long treasure hunt.
The story opens when our protoganist Nell is walking home from school and provides a dramatic opening scene as we are brought straight into the heart of the Churcher/Lally families and the madness of the 'Bonehunters'. We then turn back to a drunken night in 1979, when the older generation of Lal, Frank and Cora meet and create the initial pages of the infamous Golden Bones book. It is only when we jump forwards to the present day of 2021, that the reader begins to understand exactly what is happening with the two connected families and their intertwined history. How the fifty years since the creation of a book and puzzle about Elinor and Tam have provided the family with financial success but also propelled them into a dangerous spotlight. And now that the 50th anniversary of the publication has arrived, there is renewed interest and a new treasure hunt.
There are multiple timelines and indeed, points of view provided in 'The Skeleton Key' and this serves to provide the reader with a detailed but complex background to The Golden Bone storyline and how the book has impacted on Nell and her family. We also discover how the book came into being and the 'oneup-manship' between Lal and Frank which will eventually have tragic consequences for the whole family.
From the dramatic opening sequence, the pace then slows slightly, giving the reader time to settle into the narrative and understand the various cast and their connections. Then, once the family are united and the recording begins, the pace is ramped up dramatically and the reader is taken on a rollercoaster journey until the final paragraph. There are plenty of 'I didn't see that coming' moments and I really did love this story. And now, I'm off to read it again and enjoy the fun, madness and wonder of The Skeleton Key' all over again.

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Oh I LOVE this novel so much!! I read it in one great gulp and lost a fair amount of sleep into the bargain! I was enticed by the story of the bone hunters and Elinore and when I read about Masquerade I was gutted to realise I was born two years too late for it. But as much as I wanted to read it for that I stayed for Nell and Billie. Erin Kelly has woven together the wonderful complex and detailed history for her characters and for the bone hunters and what Nell has been through at their hands. What really made this book work for me is that every single cultural reference, joke or witty aside Nell mentioned is something I’ve said, laughed at or could nod along to. I believe at one point she says to her brother Dom “that’s you that is” something I don’t think anyone under 45 would get but had me roaring with laughter. At times it felt like I could be Nell it was so familiar.
There are twists and turns galore and one twist that I totally didn’t see coming but also lovely quiet moments like Nell and Billie being invited for lunch by the ladies on the narrow boat next door.
The ending was everything I hoped for and I have smiled all the time I’ve been writing this.
This is a must read!

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I loved this book and will be recommending it to loads of people. It drew me in right from the beginning with such an interesting premise. I was so intrigued by the idea of the book and the treasure hunt. Plus, it's completely believable the way the Bonehunters adapted over the years as forums took off. The characters were fascinating, all different, all believable. I felt invested in Nell and Billie on their boat but really enjoyed them all and their odd dynamic. Brilliant!

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Having read my own copy of Masquerade so much that it almost wore away, I was really interested to see how this premise would work out. Whilst for me, the main characters were unlovely, this helped to get to grips with them, their characters, and their parts in this story. Nell has lived with the aftermath of The Golden Bones, and the fandom that follows it for years, and has shied away from any benefit she may have received from it. And being attacked by a demented fan of the book, doesn’t inspire her to change her mind. A really gritty, interesting story, that at times is so fast paced I found myself holding my breath. Highly recommended

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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Whilst this is a gripping book, there are a lot of characters, sub plots and family sagas. It’s a bit hard to keep track at times! It is the story of a treasure hunt and is Ideal for readers who enjoy a thriller set across different timelines.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the advance copy of this book.

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This is a book that keeps you gripped from the beginning. Eleanor Churcher is under threat from the Bonehunters, a weird group of people, worldwide, who are bent on finding the last bit of a puzzle. That last bit seems to be part of Eleanor's body. She is knifed , dare not go out without protection and constantly at risk. It's an icredibly gripping story, slightly unbelievable at times, but so well written..
Thank youu to NetGalley for a review copy, which was very much enjoyed.

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I’m amazed some other reviewers found this hard to get into—I was hooked from the start and literally couldn’t put it down for three days. I’m yet to finish an Erin Kelly book where I haven’t had to go back to certain parts and re-read them, to see how she did it, and The Skeleton Key was no exception.

It’s such an enticing premise but if anything the finished product is even better than you think it’s going to be. The very final twist is a subtle one but changes everything, especially the dynamic between certain characters.

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Oh my goodness. Erin Kelly gets better and better. Her last book was so hood I thought she couldn’t top it. But she really has. One of the best books I’ve read this year. This is a strong 5/5. I’d give more if I could. Read this over the weekend and now I’m sad it’s finished. I am worried nothing can anything be as good as this stunner of a book.

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This book has the potential to be a smash hit of 2022. Not only is this a story of mystery and mayhem, but the craft on show is that of the greats of the genre. Just superb!

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I absolutely loved The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly. What a beautifully well written, interesting book. It had be hooked from the start. My favourite book so far this year

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This is probably Erin Kelly's best book to date, and that's saying something because sh'e's a wonderful writer and I love all her work. It's ambitious, complex, compelling, and atmospheric - ranging into Donna Tartt or Tana French territory. I inhaled it.

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The Skeleton Key centres around a book called The Golden Bones, written by Nell’s father 50 years ago. Within the book were clues that fans could follow to take part in a treasure hunt, which inadvertently created an obsession that put Nell’s life in danger.

Firstly, this book should come with a warning that you won’t be able to put it down until you are finished. It was full of mystery, secrets and plenty of twists. I loved that there was a story within a story.

I found it refreshing that there are references to the pandemic (the story is set in 2021) and touches on how the characters were affected by lockdown, which made it very relatable.

This isn’t your typical thriller, it is original and the complicated family relationships are written perfectly. Such a fantastic read.

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The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly.

This is a wow , can't believe an author has thought this up kind of book . To say it was fantastic is an understatement.
It is quite complex to describe as it's a book about a book , explaining a book ( told you ! )
The very first book was wrote by Eleanors father and it had a cult following , so much so that Eleanor hides herself away from public to get some peace in her life.
It was an amazing read .

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Oh wow eerie!!! compelling, full of toxic characters.. One of the best books, ive read in along time Really didn't want it to end.


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What a fabulous read! Thankfully we aren't expected to solve any cryptic clues we can just enjoy the thrill of the chase as the pace accelerates and the desperate treasure hunters resort to more and more devious ways of infiltrating the family and finding the treasure.

This is really the tale of a dysfunctional family, their secrets and their lies. It moves towards a brilliant climax with these long held secrets being revealed and layers of deceit being uncovered. However this book is far more than a thriller, the characterisation is amazing and I got deeply involved in their lives. Another winner from Erin Kelly!

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A completely different take on the usual murder stories I read. This novel was set around a treasure hunt and featured two close, dysfunctional families. The Churchers and the Lallys were the brains behind the book whose success spawned an army of Bonehunters looking for bejewelled skeleton pieces, had devastating effects for each family. A captivating and enthralling read.

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Took me a bit of time to get into. I think somethings you need to let a book flow over you and not question the whys and where fors. Just let it roll. I loved it but you need to stick with it.

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The Skeleton Key is a “must read”. At first I wondered what genre I was reading but after the first few chapters, such thoughts weren’t important as the story envelopes you and suddenly I care about Nell & Billie. I want to know what went on with Lal, Frank, Cora & Bridget and if all is as it seems (and it’s not!!). Every time I thought I saw a twist coming, and once I guessed right, the other twists and turns surprise you and keep you wanting to read on. Definitely one to re-read!!
This book was gifted to me via Netgalley in return for a review and it was a pleasure.

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I absolutely loved The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly. What a beautifully well written, interesting book. It had be hooked from the start. One of my favourite books so far this year!

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Definitely not what I was expecting! A dark very strange novel spanning a lifetime and a literary sensational at the middle of it. One of those books that will stay with you. Fully recommend

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Unputdownable - if that's a word! A truly unique plot, featuring a decades old mystery, an unforgettable family and incredibly well drawn characters. Even the online players of the game have their own personalities. A gripping, wonderful read.

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This is literally the best book I've read in my entire life.

The story is perfection. Absolute perfection. It's seamless, it's flawless, and it flows like mercury. It's the first time I've ever been totally drawn in by a book. I haven't even finished it and I'm reviewing it at about 90% because I'm just so eager to let others know just how good it is.

It's up, it's down, there's not a single boring "skimmable" part in this book. I found myself totally drawn in by Nell, she's such a likeable character. She's sat on the outside of a large, dysfunctional family, looking in and only has the best intentions, despite not being a model citizen.

Several of the "sub-stories" had me totally gripped too. I found myself quite emotionally involved in some of them, particularly just how much it annoyed me that people devote their lives to "bone hunting" I was worried for Nell and Billie with their own little story, I was upset for Dom, I felt so much pity for Cora.

This lady deserves to smash records for this book, and I really hope she does. I've gone straight out and ordered the rest of her back catalogue. My favourite author of the past few years by a LONG shot.

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What an amazing book!
The book follows the joint sories of the Churcher and Lally families who have been life long friends.
Frank Churcher came up with the idea for a book that would make him a lot of money. This book was ''The Golden Bones''. A treasure hunt book, full of clues to find the locations of several golden bones that make up the skeleton of fictional character, Elinore. Frank and his wife Cora, even named their daughter after Elinore, although she prefers to distance herself from this by calling herself Nell. The book has drawn fans from across the globe, some more obsessed with finding the scattered bones than others, and Nell has found herself in danger on more than one occasion, but none so terrifying as when she was stabbed as a child buy a crazed 'bonehunter'.
The story covers several decades, and flits from one time period to another to give a full background to the twisted tale. The book marred the life of so many people, and twisted the minds of bonehunters and family alike. This culminates in a murder that has been covered up for years, until something happens to bring everything to light once more.
An excellent read, that I would recommend to anyone. Well deserving of stars!

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Nell Churcher has spent her whole life associated with The Golden Bones, a book written and illustrated by her estranged father Frank Churcher which contains clues to a golden skeleton whose bones are hidden around the UK.
The fanatical followers of the book, Bonehunters, have many outlandish theories about the messages and clues illustrated, and have blighted Nell’s life, because she bears the same name, Eleanor, as the woman in the book.
It is the 50th anniversary of the publication, and the family have been brought together for a TV special filmed at their house in Hampstead.
By setting the main action over a short number of days, and then moving back in time to significant events the tension is ramped up, as truths and betrayals within the family are uncovered.
An excellent read.

Thanks to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to read this book.

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Oh my goodness!- I found myself wanting to be part of the golden bones treasure hunt, despite the fact it is a work of fiction!
The book si spectacular in drawing in the reader to the madness and to the truth as the book is up for re-release and the madbess intensifies.
The myriad of slightly deranged (and in some cases downright terrifying) fans of the book and treasure hunters supreme have made Nell's life a misery for years. Always fearful for her safety Nell has been stalked and wounded all in the name of Elinore- the fictional skeleton from the treasure hunt and it jsut seems to keep escalating, despite her worst enemy being behind bars.
Fast paced and really, really twisted this is one that will keep you up late into the night- deserved of more than 5 stars!

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Published September 1, this is such a clever, intriguing read. Nell – Eleanor – comes to her family’s home (at her family’s insistence) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her father’s book, The Golden Bones, wherein he painted a picture of Elinore, murdered and whose skeleton was scattered across England. Puzzles and clues suggested where some of the bones were buried, leading to a treasure hunt that has last all 50 years. Only the pelvis has remained hidden – and the Bonehunters, as they’re called, will do anything to find it. While father Frank Churcher, his wife and their son have enjoyed the spoils of the book, Nell has become a recluse. Now, to celebrate the anniversary, Frank has something special planned… he’s announcing where the final bone is hidden. Great, you think, until everything falls asunder. There’s layer upon layer of mystery in this frankly brilliant read: you get inside the head of all the main players, and it’s clear there’s a lot going on because of the book’s impact, and as well as the book’s impact.

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I really enjoyed this gripping crime thriller cum family saga, not least because it centres around a hugely popular treasure hunt, with the author having taken inspiration from Kit Williams’ ‘Masquerade’. Like the author, I spent hours as a child leafing through the pages of my parents’ copy of this bestselling picture book, so a fictional ‘behind the scenes’ look at how a similar book and hunt came into being and the deadly consequences that it wrought really captured my attention.

The first third of ‘The Skeleton Key’ sets up the family dynamic – the book in the novel, ‘The Golden Bones’, is the product of two artistic best friends, who end up living next door to one another. They both marry and have children, two of whom also become a couple and have children of their own. Some time after the publication of their book, the daughter of one of the artists, arguably the more famous of the two, becomes a target for the more obsessive of the ‘Bonehunters’ and it’s partly from her perspective that we follow the story, though much later in 2021. The book also uses flashbacks to explain the actions of various characters – another element I thought was excellent.

The rest of the novel really picks up the pace as a gathering in the artists’ garden to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘The Golden Bones’ publication descends into chaos after real human remains are discovered whilst a television film crew roll cameras. As the ‘Bonehunters’ once again start to stir, family secrets start to become unearthed from all sides and risk tearing all three families apart.

This novel really has so much to recommend it. The plot is fantastic and the core group of characters are fascinating, flawed individuals. There are a series of jaw-dropping ‘reveals’ which I never would have guessed and the author brilliantly coaxes so many emotions from the reader along the way.

Many thanks to the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, and to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review an advance copy of this five star read.

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An absolutely exceptional book by author Erin Kelly.

Nell reluctantly returns to the family home to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her father's novel 'The Golden Bones', a beautifully illustrated treasure hunt that has captivated readers for the five decades since its publication. Her father's book is a story of passion and deceit, a backdrop to a life that has consisted of the same qualities for himself. But as she re-immerses herself in her chaotic and unconventional extended family, Nell begins to realise how far the effect of lies and love can really reach. Clues and truths echo from across the years and as lies are laid bare, its time to see how long the truth can stay hidden.

I absolutely loved this book! The narrative is cleverly unraveled with jumps backwards and forwards in chronology, with flashbacks to the publication of the book and to the present day for its 50th anniversary. The book is a maze of sub-plots and perspectives that build our knowledge piece by piece, changing our initial perceptions about events and characters as the story develops.

The main character Nell is a really likeable character and I enjoyed her resistance to her family and their values. Her fierce loyalty to Billie is heart-warming and, especially as events unfold, I can understand how the past has led to this admirable character trait.

The book has a reel of characters, which at first felt quite confusing. But the author is able to cleverly and successfully develop each character through the use of flashbacks and different perspectives so that, although there are many of them, the characters are each a fully-formed and integral role within the tangled timeline of their lives. The narrative is built on the themes of deception, rivalry, love and loyalty, and there are some genuine eye-brow-raising, gasp-out-loud moments as the plot unravels.

A firm five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Highly recommend!

Thank you to Erin Kelly, Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to read and review this book prior to publication. I reviewed an advanced review copy for free and I am leaving this honest review voluntarily.

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A dysfunctional family history and a murder mystery surrounding a treasure hunt book ‘The Golden Bones’ which touches the lives of its creator Frank Churcher and his close family and friends. Inspired by the book Masquerade which was published in 1979, this book had me reminiscing my childhood and my total inability to solve any of its clues. Nell, Franks daughter, has had her life totally disrupted by the publication of The Golden Bones and the increasingly disturbing and violent theories and actions of the ‘bone hunters’. As the story progresses twists and family secrets come thick and fast. I loved this book and would highly recommend. It’s a strong 5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ from me. Thank you NetGalley, the publisher and the author for letting mr read the arc of this novel in return for a honest review.

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Gothic Mysticism…
Haunting themes of gothic mysticism, mystery and spellbound thriller merge in this cleverly crafted and multi layered tale. This is more than simply a treasure hunt. With a beautifully drawn plot and a cast driven by complex personalities, this is intriguing and engaging and will keep the reader enthralled until the final page.

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Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for providing an ARC of this book.

Genuinely one of the best things I’ve read in ages. Imaginative with great characters. Loved how it developed and didn’t guess where it was going at all

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What a book! Somehow Erin Kelly had done it again, no two books are remotely the same, I honestly don’t know how she finds her ideas.

I loved the concept of this tale, where two artists devise a book which grips the world- the book keeping clues to buried treasure- tiny gold skeleton pieces buried in specific locations across the UK, with one piece, the pelvis, never discovered. 50 years later, on the anniversary of its launch, and during a new launch of an online version, events take a macabre twist when a human pelvis is found in its place.

The story twists from past to current day, with some terrible consequences.

I couldn’t put this down, the storyline was complex but gripping and I just had to keep reading. Just Fabulous. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Extraordinary, I was totally immersed in this story, absorbing every word in case I missed something important. It’s a long book and it took a while to read but I thought it well worth it. Every character in the two main families is flawed and self absorbed and totally controlled by the phenomenon created by the parent generation of a treasure hunt book containing clues to the position of buried golden bones. Secrets and lies are revealed slowly through a dual timeline that shocks and confounds. How far would you go to protect someone you love and what is the nature of family?

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I have to say this has to be my second favourite of erin’s books, the first being the burning air. All I can say is wow! What a masterful plot, it had me gripped from the very first page until the last. I’m so excited for the next one already.

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The Golden Bones is going to follow me around for the rest of my life. How can I trust anyone? It all leads back to you!

Nell didn't want to go to the reunion to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Golden Bones. She'd had no benefit from it - in fact, it had made her life precarious and unbelievably challenging. I'd better explain. The Golden Bones was a treasure quest book painted and written by Frank and Cora Churcher. The story revolved around murdered Elinore whose golden and bejewelled bones were hidden around the country. The clues - some of them quite tortuous - were disguised in the words and pictures of the book - and all the parts were discovered except for the pelvis. As with such quests, some people were obsessive and the theories became more and more outlandish.

One theory which gathered enough believers to make it dangerous for Nell was that her pelvis was actually Elinore's pelvis and Ingrid Morrison attacked her with a knife. You could argue that it was Nell's fault: the family knew of the threat and she was delivered to and picked up from school every day by Ahmed. One day she decided that she'd go out with her friends - and Ingrid attacked her on her way home. Since then she's lived her life trying to stay away from the spotlight.

Nell has fifteen-year-old Billie to take into account. Billie's actually the daughter of a former boyfriend and she matters to Nell. They live on Nell's houseboat, Seren, which has to be moved regularly. It's a bit of a nuisance but it does limit the chances of Nell being found by the Bonehunters. The book made Frank (now Sir Frank) a rich man but it wasn't only Nell who suffered. Marriages broke down, homes were lost and a man was killed. Frank doesn't seem worried - in fact he craves the publicity - and hopes that it will help to sell his real work, the portraits of the women he's slept with. Some of them are far too close to home.

I did wonder if I was going to enjoy the book: treasure quests are not really my thing but Bookbag has reviewed a few of Erin Kelly's books and some respected reviewers have been blown away. I suspected I was missing something, so I started to read about a treasure quest...

... and I couldn't put it down. In the first few pages you'll wonder if you're going to have to come to terms with a cast of thousands, but relax - you're in safe hands. Every one of these characters will come to life as you read. Some - Nell and Billie - you'll be rooting for. Others - Frank Churcher, we're looking at you - will be despised. After you've turned the final page, you'll wonder how they're all doing.

I'd have read this book just for the joy of the characters but you also get one of the best plots I've encountered in a long time. It's like a jigsaw, which comes together piece by piece as you come to the inevitable - but totally unexpected - conclusion. It's an absolute cracker of a book and the brilliant thing is that there's a back catalogue to be explored. I'm going to start with The Poison Tree.

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The book starts slowly with background information for the reader. A couple of times, I thought "why am I reading this?" as the recollections of Eleanore grew with no story to knit them together . Then it started. Like trying to read a kaleidoscope, the reader is bounced from year to year, person to person in a dizzying flickerboard and the story emerges, each revelation laying uncomfortably on the other. Growing up in a family with a famous author for a father and discovering the treacherous path taken by family members and friends could lead you to a life of quiet solitude and carefully chosen companions.

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This isn't a book I would usually pick up since it looks and sounds like nothing like a fantasy YA novel but I was pleasantly surprised by how wrong I was.

The characters, the families and the history behind the book-inside-the-book made it an engrossing adventure I had so much fun with. We get slowly introduced toe Nell's world, her family, her father's legacy and the impact all this has had on her life since she was a kid.

The plot is intricately woven with some amazing details in it that had me going back and forth among the pages to confirm things. This is a book that needs to be read and reread.

I'd recommend it for BOTM picks as it brings up some interesting questions on a lot of subjects (not giving anything away but let's just say I can't wait for a discussion on this).

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Hodder & Stougton for this amazing ebook. I cannot wait to explore more from Erin Kelley.

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I grew up with the Masquerade book this story inspired, it's vivid drawings revealing something new keach time you looked at it. My sister and I spent hours pouring over it.

Naturally, I was delighted to hear about this book and thrilled to get an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you.

There's a lot going on. It flips between timelines, retells tlimelines from different perspectives and it would have been easy for the story to get as lost as the treasure on which the story is based. But it doesn't. Erin skillfully weaves a tale about family - the ups, downs and absolute horrors that sometimes occur. The characters are flawed, weak but that's what makes them real. Some you will hate, some you will love.

It's a puzzle in literary form, that leaves you guessing till the very end.

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"Less than a fortnight ago, I thought that the greatest derailment of my life - the before-and-after everyone has - was when Ingrid took a blade to my skin...Right now, that moment, and all the others...seem little more than a kink in the tracks. This is the moment my life slides off the lines entirely. This is the impact, this is the wreck."

Present day London and Eleanor (Nell) Churcher, in her forties, is attending a family anniversary at their insistence. Nell is nervous. She brings with her informally adoptive daughter, teenager, Billie. The Churcher family, including eccentric and arrogant, Sir Frank Churcher, bohemian mum Cora and immediate neighbours and long-time friends, The Lallys (including Frank's best friend, Lal) are all in attendance. It's fifty years since Frank, released 'The Golden Bones', a beautiful, lyrical book with an 'olde English' folklore tale of lost love accompanied by beautiful and complex images. The book was a treasure hunt, encouraging readers to locate the separate parts of a miniature golden skeleton of 'Elinor', buried about the UK. Avid fans, The Bonehunters, become obsessed with finding the final piece, the pelvis. Some became unhinged and fixated on the book's namesake, Elinor / Eleanor, AKA Nell, putting her life in danger over the decades, to the extent that she has been living under the radar on a house-boat. At the anniversary celebrations, the Bonehunters are kept outside by security whilst a documentary team record the republication of the book with a new digital treasure hunt and app, designed by Dominic, Nell's brother. As Frank swans about being the centre of attention, he doesn't know that the past is about to catch up with him. Within a couple of week, the families' lives will never be the same again as truths are devastatingly revealed.

This is an outstanding, character-driven saga about the secrets and lies of two eccentric and dysfunctional British families, spanning from the 1970s to present day. The concept of The Golden Bones (inspired by Masquerade) is fascinating, but it's engaging protagonist Nell who is the heart of the novel, trying to create a safe and loving world for herself and Billie. The quest to find the golden bones brings out strong emotions, having led to arguments, fights, marriage breakdowns, injury and even death. Unpredictable, intricate and tense, I struggled to put this down as the shocking twists were revealed and Nell showed her strength and determination.

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A fresh and intriguing thriller/crime/mystery novel. I absolutely loved this and couldn't put it down. Highly recommend

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Thank you Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton, for providing an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

From the very first page, this was a story that kept me interested. This story is the first I have read of its kind, and I am craving more! The story keeps unfolding itself in new and intricate ways, as it reveals new layers of the secret that is central to the story: The Golden Bones. The pace of the story is slow enough for details that add a ton to the story and fast enough to keep me engaged in the story; Erin has done that beautifully so. The dark themes in the book are handled with the uttermost grace. This book will have my thoughts captured for some time and not let me go. Go read this book!

Fifty years after the release of The Golden Bones, the bestselling book with a treasure hunt hidden in its pages, the anniversary holds the fans in its grips as it did all those years ago. Nell, a recluse after her childhood events, decides to attend this anniversary for her parents. But this anniversary does not happen without consequences.

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I chose to read this book because, like the author, I too was fascinated by Kit William's 'Masquerade' book, although too young to do anything but marvel at the amazing pictures and read a nice but confusing story.
The Skeleton Key doesn't have any pictures, but it is certainly more than a nice story. From very early on, I felt drawn in to the lives of Nell and her family. I liked how the story evolved to reveal more of their characters and their motives. The narrative moves around on the timeline but unlike some stories, this wasn't confusing as the chapters were clearly titled with the date.. What was slightly confusing was the discussions concerning the Bonehunters and the significance of their forum posts, one has to pay very close attention to keep up with who said what and when!
This is a whodunnit mystery and a psychological thriller, mixed with a good dollop of social commentary about class prejudice and privilege. It is not always easy reading but it is totally engrossing and worth a few hours of anyone's time.

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Welcome to a world, where it appears nothing is sacred anymore. Misdemeanors are covered up by throwing cash at them, and families are prepared to go all in to keep reputations in place. Is this possible, the art world closing in and covering up to protect its own. Its all about the bones….

“… Flesh will spoil and blood will spill but true love never dies. Gather the lady’s bones with love to see the lady rise…”
Erin Kelly :- The Skeleton Key.

As a form of torture Chinese Water and Waterboarding can easily be described as being extremities of the same idea. However, you couldn’t think of anything more apt to describe just how the author holds you in this story. A drip feed that descends into a creshendo, that pulls you along and threatens to drown you. Such is the pace that it gathers.

The charcters, the way in which they merge, the simple believability. You feel like you know them, that they are almost family members of yours, such is the way that they portrayed and the depth that they have.

The plot, is of similar strength and leaves just enough to the imagination, to really find yourself fully immersed in the goings on of the two families. The twists and turns, and the suffering that they are going through.

Would I recommend? Hell YES!

Status: Complete

Rating: 5.0/5.0

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