Skeleton Key – Alex Rider book 3

Skeleton Key

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Publication: Speak, 2006

Pages: 352

Overall Rating:   bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                     

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary: After stopping a member of a Chinese triad from rigging the Wimbledon tennis tournament, Alex is targeted for death by the gang.  For his own safety, MI6 ships him off to America, where the CIA needs a teen agent to accompany two of their operatives to Cuba.  It’s supposed to be a simple assignment – go in as the agents’ son that they won’t attract too much attention from the Cuban security services, then hang out on the beach while they run surveillance on a Russian General.  But things start to get hairy when Alex discovers that the General has a nuclear bomb, and after the CIA operatives he’s working with go missing Alex finds himself in a head-to-head battle with a megalomaniac out to reshape the world.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: I liked the way that Horowitz manages to bring Alex back into service.  After the last mission he’d told MI6 in no uncertain terms that he’d never work for them again.  And since they’d already corralled him into operations twice using scare tactics and threats Horowitz couldn’t really play that card again.  By having him in brought in unofficially on what’s supposed to be a joy ride  – working as a ball boy at Wimbledon– and then having it go off the rails by pitting Alex against the Triads, Horowitz provides a great excuse to put him back in the field.  It also provides an interesting set-up for the book, with a short case at the beginning that ultimately leads into the main case – very much like the James Bond films that always open with Bond taking out the bad guys in one mission before transitioning into his main case.

What I Liked the Least: At the end of the book Horowitz briefly implies that Alex has been killed, only to reveal later that it’s not true.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and it does add to the tension, but he did exactly the same thing in Point Blanc, faking Alex’s death to fool the director of the Point Blanc Academy.  Employing that tactic once is great, but it’s not the kind of thing you can keep using.

How Good was the Action?  As always with the Alex Rider novels, the action is top notch.  There are great scenes throughout the book, and Horowitz rarely makes you wait too long between one action scene and the next.  There’s a particularly good one where Alex is being questioned by one of the General’s henchman, who’s drugged him and placed him on a conveyor belt, threatening to run him through a sugar cane crusher.  But no matter what the challenge, Alex always finds an inventive way to overcome it, relying on his wits and a little help from the gadgets MI6 supplies him with.

How Engaging was the Story?   Horowitz provides an interesting twist by having the main villain of the story take a liking to Alex.  It sets up an interesting situation where Alex’s opponent is offering to love him like a father, filling the void in Alex’s own life – and yet he’s still a villain who Alex has to defeat.

It was also interesting to bring the CIA into the picture.  Alex has already proved himself to MI6, but the CIA knows little to nothing about him and the agents he’s assigned to don’t like what’s happening and don’t trust him.  That creates a situation where Alex has to take some crazy risks to prove himself – all in order to be given more responsibilities for a mission he doesn’t want to be in on the first place.  It’s a perfect set-up for creating tension between Alex and his fellow agents.

Overall Assessment: Another excellent installment in the Alex Rider series.  We don’t learn much about Alex’s family or personal life in this book, but we are introduced to Sabina Pleasure – a character who will return later in the series.  Overall, it’s not an essential novel in terms of understanding the series –it certainly doesn’t provide delve into Alex’s character, his parents, or his past in the way some of the other books do – but it’s still a lot of fun to read.

Profanity: Minor

Sex: None.  Alex is obviously attracted to Sabina Pleasure, and the two do share one kiss, but that’s it.

Violence: Of course.  This is an Alex Rider Novel.  People get shot, eaten by gators, and have their backs broken.  There are fist fights, and Alex is tortured.  But outside of the torture scene none of it is particularly graphic.

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