Skeleton Key (novel)

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Skeleton Key
Second edition cover
Author Anthony Horowitz
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Alex Rider series
Genre Adventure, Spy novel, Mystery
Publisher Walker Books (UK)
Publication date
8 July 2002
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 324 pp (first edition, paperback)
ISBN 0-14-240102-1 (first edition, paperback)
OCLC 54953320
LC Class PZ7.H7875 Sk 2004
Preceded by Point Blanc
Followed by Eagle Strike

Skeleton Key is the third book in the Alex Rider series written by British author Anthony Horowitz. The book was released in the United Kingdom on July 8, 2002, and in the United States on April 28, 2003.


The book, Skeleton Key, opens with two men, Marc and Carlo and an unnamed pilot, flying to meet with General Alexei Sarov in Cayo Esqueleto (Spanish for "Skeleton Key"), a fictional island just off of Cuba to exchange a kilogram of uranium for money the general has promised them. Due to a supply problem, the price had risen by $500000 (quarter million). Sarov pays the men the agreed upon price, and agrees to have the rest wired to the Salesman, whom he purchased the uranium from. The two threaten to call the American Intelligence if the extra money isn't received in three days. Taking this as a threat, Sarov turns the runway lights off when the two go to leave, then turns a set of lights that lead into the mangroves on, which leads the plane into swamp, trapping it. Sarov watches with pleasure as the two men and the pilot are devoured by the inhabiting crocodiles. He then loads the uranium in the Jeep he comes in and leaves.

Meanwhile, it is revealed Alex had survived the fight with Dr. Grief's clone and is visited by John Crawley at school. Crawley offers him tickets to Wimbledon, but Alex learns he must go undercover as a ball boy following suspicion of a break in. There, he befriends a ball girl called Sabina Pleasure. Alex notices a suspicious looking guard who happens to be Chinese and decides to investigate, but the guard lures him and attempts to kill him. Alex survives the attack and learns that the man was a member of the Chinese Triad gang "Big Circle" and was attempting match fixing. Alex is targeted by the triad gang as another member makes an attempt on his life while surfing on vacation with Sabina in Cornwall, he comes close to drowning but Sabina manages to save his life, as she is an excellent swimmer and knows CPR. For his safety, both MI6 and the CIA arrange to send him with CIA agents Tom Turner (renamed "Glen Carver" in the US version of Skeleton Key) and Belinda Troy to Skeleton Key to investigate General Sarov. The two CIA agents would pass off as his parents. The CIA is concerned about the actions of Sarov since he intends to meet the Russian president, Boris Kiriyenko.

En route to Skeleton Key, the 'family' of Alex, Turner and Troy stop in Miami. The two CIA agents are not happy about bringing Alex and they attempt to keep as much information from Alex as possible, clearly discrediting him, much to Alex's frustration. Turner meets a salesman on a boat called the 'Mayfair Lady', suspecting that the salesman was involved in a deal with Sarov. The salesman however ties Turner up, knowing that he works for CIA. Alex manages to board the boat and set fire to it, causing a distraction. A firefight ensues, where Alex escapes with Turner and the boat later explodes, killing everyone on board. Despite his life being saved, Turner is surprised that Alex would cause the explosion, although Alex is not convinced. It is later revealed that Conrad, Sarov's main henchman, planted an explosive on the boat due to the fact the Salesman may contact American Intelligence.

Just after arriving in Skeleton Key, Alex notices a Geiger counter in a Game Boy Advance console he was given by the 'parents' that is designed to pick up nuclear radiation. Alex learns that Turner and Troy were actually sent to the island to search for a nuclear bomb. The two CIA agents reveal to Alex that the salesman had sold weapons grade uranium to Sarov and they explain to Alex their plan to infiltrate the residence of Sarov - the Casa de Oro. They intend to scuba dive into a cave and then climb up to the surface. Alex goes with them but stays on the boat while Turner and Troy go underwater. When they do not return, Alex dives in alone and after a close encounter with a shark, discovers a mechanical spear trap that impaled Turner and Troy. When he resurfaces, the boat driver has been killed and Alex is captured by Conrad, who puts a sack over his head and injects him with a drug giving him the inability to move. When the sack is taken off, Alex finds himself in a sugar factory lying down on the conveyor belt where Conrad interrogates him. Alex lies to him but Conrad knows the truth and activates the belt, causing Alex to head toward a pair of crushers. Despite finally telling him the truth about the bomb, Conrad decides to kill him anyway, however, General Sarov stops the machine. Alex, overwhelmed that he was inches near death, passes out.

Alex wakes up in the Casa de Oro and demands to know what Sarov wants with him who tells Alex he will tell him in time. The next day, Sarov tells him how he had a son named Vladamir whom he encouraged to go to war in Afghanistan. However, he was killed in action by a sniper. The General tells Alex how he wishes to adopt him as he shares many traits with Vladamir due to their similar physical appearance and common traits. He then has Alex moved to the slave house.

Alex attempts to escape the mansion by hiding in the trunk of a limousine following a lunch meeting between Sarov and Kiriyenko. He is however caught by Sarov thanks to a sensor that can detect circulation, who spares Alex's life yet again but punishes him through mental torture, with Conrad pointing a pistol at Alex, Sarov holds the device in front of him so Alex can hear his own heartbeat, Conrad holds the gun against Alex's heart. The whole time, Sarov talks to Alex as if he really is going to have Conrad shoot him. As his heartbeat gets faster, Conrad then puts pressure on the trigger, and Sarov suddenly turns off the device, having Alex fall under the impression he'd been shot, Sarov then tells Conrad to take him back to the slave house. At dinner later that evening, Sarov drugs Kiriyenko and his guests, the drug makes them all lose consciousness and has them moved to the slave house. He then has the nuclear bomb transported onto the island.

On the flight to Russia, Sarov tells Alex that they are heading to Murmansk, which contains a shipyard of nuclear submarines, he wants to drop the nuclear bomb there, which is powered by the uranium, and is activated by a key card which Sarov shows him, the bomb will cause a massive explosion, Russia will be blamed and they will turn to their president, Sarov will then release edited footage from an interview exposing Kiriyenko as a lazy drunk idiot who says he can't deal with the issue, this will force him out of power and he will eventually be found dead due to heart failure, Russia will go back to communism, and Sarov will be taking over, at the cost of millions of innocent lives and the irreversible contamination of Britain and most of Scandinavia. The plane makes a fuel stop in Edinburgh, where Sarov taunts Alex with the knowledge that the radiation will destroy Scotland (and the rest of Britain). Alex uses a stun grenade (courtesy of Smithers at MI6) to escape the plane while it had landed, incapacitating Sarov and Conrad temporarily. Alex runs to one of the terminal buildings and attempts to call the police but is stopped by a security guard named George Prescott. Despite Alex's efforts to convince Prescott of the situation, Sarov recaptures Alex and Prescott is killed by Conrad. They continue their flight to Murmansk.

At Murmansk, Conrad plants the bomb on a submarine using a magnetic crane. One of Sarov's men handcuffs Alex to a handrail close to the submarines, Sarov approaches him and bids him farewell before leaving. Alex sets himself free by using bubble gum that can be turned into a reactive substance when chewed for a certain period of time (again supplied by Smithers). Conrad immediately notices and lowers himself out of the crane to engage Alex. During their fight, the Russian army arrives and starts fighting Sarov's men. During the brawl, Conrad outmatches him and comes dangerously close to killing him. However, Conrad (who has numerous pieces of metal inside his body) is caught by the crane's electromagnet passing overhead, lifting him into the air and breaking his back. Alex takes over the crane, dropping Conrad's body into the sea and grabbing the nuclear bomb from the submarine. He then removes the detonation card from the bomb, only to be told to put it back by a reappearing Sarov. When Alex tells Sarov that he would rather die than become Sarov's son, Sarov commits suicide.

In the final chapter of the novel, it is revealed that when Alex explained his predicament to George Prescott, his office heard their conversation through Prescott's radio, which was still turned on. Initially, they didn't believe Alex, but when they discovered Prescott's death, they immediately notified MI6, who then warned the Russians. Alex is depressed after everything he has been through, but Sabina approaches Alex and invites him on holiday with her family in France for a couple of weeks, cheering Alex up.[1]

Graphic novel[edit]

In 2009 a graphic novel adaptation of Skeleton Key was released through Walker Books. This version altered some elements from the novel, such as eliminating an attack on Alex while he is surfing in Cornwall.


Critical reception for both versions of Skeleton Key was mostly positive, with Booklist giving the novel version a positive review.[2] The print version of Skeleton Key was named as one of ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers for 2004.[3] The School Library Journal has given praise for both editions of the story, calling the print version "rip-roaring" while recommending the graphic novel as a pick for "reluctant readers".[4][5]


  1. ^ Horowitz, Anthony (2002). Skeleton Key. p. 288. 
  2. ^ "Review: Skeleton Key". Booklist. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "ALA Book Picks 2004 (Young Adult)". ALA. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Review: Skeleton Key". BookVerdict (SLJ). Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Graphic Novels for Reluctant Readers: 33 Titles". Library Journal. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 

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