Skeleton Key, by Anthony Horowitz (Alex Rider reread #3)

“You are mine! And I intend to make you suffer…”
“Just talking to you makes me suffer,” Alex said.

I remembered this one pretty vividly, but I had the time-line way out of scope in my head. By the time we got into the nuclear threat stuff, it was two-thirds of the way in and Alex was already hitting his stride. Still a good book though, if not quite as impactful as Point Blanc was to me. (I just love Point Blanc’s ending, okay?)

Rating: 3.5 stars!

Alex Rider series so far:

At the end of Point Blanc we saw Alex swear he was never going on a mission again, and Blunt claiming he’d definitely be back. Normally I’d believe Alex’s stubbornness but well, there’s a lot more missions to go. Knowing there are a lot more books also takes some of the heat out of Point Blanc’s absolutely vicious cliffhanger. I didn’t remember how much of a shock ending that was until I reread it. After Alex’s fight with the clone, we’re left not knowing whether our Alex or clone-Alex survived their death-match at Brooklands School. Except that… this series probably isn’t taking a left-turn into following Alex’s evil clone, so we can assume our Alex probably survived the fight.

The plot:

At 14, Alex has been through more trouble than most people get in a lifetime. He’s been chased down a mountain on an ironing board, hunted by terrorists and saved the world twice. But now he faces his biggest threat yet as the CIA borrow him to stop a man who has lost everything – and who has the power to destroy what’s left. On a mission that takes him from Miami to Russia, Alex must act fast to save the world from a new Nuclear threat.

What did I think?

Skeleton Key was super enjoyable, and I always have such a vivid memory of the pre-adventure set at Wimbledon. Again it shows Anthony Horowitz’s ridiculous attention to detail when it comes to his research, where you not only have a really vivid image of the setting, but you learn things too. Despite the fact that I love the pre-adventures so much – it’s something that makes Alex’s stories so memorable, you get to see him work through loads of wild and wacky situations- I rated it 3.5 instead of 4 stars mostly for the pacing. It felt like I was two-thirds of the way through the book before the main section of the story started. There was a really interesting aspect to this story with the Alex/Dimitry which was under-explored because the ends of the book was coming around so quickly.

Conrad’s character kind of irritated me. Why do we always get disfigured characters as the side-kick? It’s a whole Igor thing gone crazy. This book came out in 2002, so I’m not necessarily expecting anything super-woke here, but that’s twice now in two books that we’ve had the ‘you can see this character is evil because he’s disfigured’ trope, and I hate it. Facial scarring and severe injuries don’t make someone evil, and consistently describing them as hideous and evil is infuriating. What happened to him in the end was absolutely fucking disgusting too, but that was actually the good writing more than it was to do with the disfigured trope.

BUT, there were lots of things I loved in this book. Alex continues to not only be well-written, but he’s not a Mary Sue. He repeatedly acknowledges that he’s in fights with people who are better trained and more experienced, and he wins and loses appropriately – winning due to luck and smarts rather than plot armour and inexplicable strength. The quickest way to lose my interest in a teenage character is for them to somehow have the power of a thirty year old SAS expert tactician. He’s a kid, and things go wrong because he thinks like a kid. I love it.

Anthony Horowitz’s writing continues to floor me during action scenes. Conrad’s ending was absolutely disgusting and there was a scene with a heartbeat monitor that is absolutely hardcore. I remember it from the last time I read it, and it still made me flinch to read it again. Powerful, powerful writing. That being said, why does Alex fake die every time? I’m not calling that a spoiler because this is part 3 in a 12 part series, and also because this is literally the second time in two books we’ve had this ‘scare’. Do we have to do this? It loses impact.

And a very special mention for ‘Centurion International Advertising’, which made me laugh like an idiot. I don’t care if it’s true or not, as far as I’m concerned that’s how the CIA hide all their bases. I hope the FBI do it too, ‘Friendly Building Inspectors’ is a totally normal name for a company, right?

My favourite Alex moment in Skeleton Key wasn’t quite his usual level of quip (though to be fair there were some good quips here) but this absolutely iconic snapshot of dialogue:

“I set fire to the boat.”

“But we’re on the boat!”

“I know.”

In order, so far, I’d rate:

I’ll see you guys next week, for me to be crying over Yassen Gregorovich for the entirety of my blog post.


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