This action/thriller book is the third in the "Alex Rider" series by Anthony Horowitz and is published by the Penguin Group.
Skeleton Key is written for kids ages 12 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Orphaned 14-year old spy Alex Rider is asked by the British spy agency M16 to be a ball boy at Wimbledon. While at the tournament, he uncovers a sinister plan carried out by a Chinese gang that involves rigging the outcome by drugging certain tennis players. Afterward, the gang members attempt to redeem their reputation by trying to kill Alex. He is forced to go into hiding.
Alex vows — once more — to never work for M16. Of course, as was the case in book two of this series, M16 officials manipulate Alex until he accepts their latest case. Since attempts are being made on Alex's life, M16 feels that Alex should travel to Florida as part of a joint spy mission with the CIA. Alex flies to Miami and meets two agents that pose as his parents, Carver (male) and Troy (female). After a week of training, the three travel to Skeleton Key, an island near Cuba. The CIA agents leave Alex at the hotel while they spy on those in the mansion of a mad Russian general, Alexei Sarov. The CIA had received a report that the general recently bought uranium.
Alex convinces agents Carver and Troy to let him accompany them on a scuba diving excursion, which is really another spy operation. Carver and Troy are killed by a trap set by Sarov in a cave underneath his mansion, and Alex is taken hostage. The mad general doesn't want to hurt Alex, even though he knows Alex is an M16 agent. Alex reminds the general of his only son who was killed in the war between Afghanistan and his country. General Sarov offers to adopt Alex. Sarov thinks Alex is considering his offer as they fly to Russia where the general plans to set off a nuclear bomb in a harbor of outdated and rusted Russian submarines. On the way, they stop in London to fuel their jet, and Alex escapes. Sarov recaptures Alex, but not before the young spy is able to get the attention of the authorities. In Russia, Sarov and his men seize control of a submarine yard and the nuclear bomb is lowered onto the top of a sub. Alex manages to stall Sarov and his men until Russian soldiers arrive to take control of the situation. The bomb is defused. Sarov realizes that Alex does not want to be his son and shoots himself.
Alex's parents are dead and so is his uncle, the man who had been raising him and who was a secret M16 spy. For the most part, Alex is on his own, though he does have a caretaker — a young American woman — who is only briefly mentioned and never appears in the book. Agents Carver and Troy pose as Alex's parents on a spy mission, but Troy does not treat Alex well because she doesn't think a boy should be on such a serious assignment. Carver is nice to Alex and takes him under his wing, treating him like he would a son. After kidnapping Alex, Sarov tries to adopt him and become his father. Alex wants no part of it, as it's obvious that the general is mad.
Other Belief Systems
Sarov claims that he doesn't believe in God.
Three men attempting to leave Skeleton Key in a plane get bogged down in a swamp surrounding the runway and are eaten by crocodiles. Alex fights a man posing as a guard. The fight is brutal and bloody, and Alex finally knocks the man out and puts him in a freezer. It's implied that the man later dies. CIA agent Carver is captured, and later Alex finds him, beaten and bloody, tied to a chair. A cargo ship full of bad guys blows up, killing all aboard. Alex is attacked by a shark while scuba diving and barely escapes with his life. When he returns to the boat, he finds the driver dead with a knife sticking out his back. One of Sarov's henchmen ties Alex to a conveyor belt used for crushing sugar cane, but the machine is turned off at the last minute by Sarov. An airport guard is found shot between the eyes. Sarov's men shoot five Russian sailors. Sarov shoots himself with a gun in front of Alex.
After nearly dying in a fight at Wimbledon, Alex is furious at M16. A couple of days later he stands on the veranda of a house and thinks to himself, "To h--- with all of them!" Alex's girlfriend is enamored with a tennis player, and Alex, who is a bit jealous, tells her to "Keep her hands on the right balls." There are two instances where characters use God’s name in vain.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- As a spy, Alex often lies in order to outwit his enemies.
Are there times in life when it's all right to lie?
If so, in what kind of situations would it be OK?
If not, why not?
What does the Bible say about lying?
How does the biblical perspective line up with what you believe?
- Being an orphan, Alex would like nothing more than to be a part of a real family.
However, when Sarov offers to adopt him, Alex declines.
What does Alex realize about family?
Why wouldn’t Sarov be a good parent for Alex?
What do you like best about your family?
Is there anything you would like to change about your family?
What does it mean to have God as your heavenly Father and to be a member of His family?
- Does Sarov believe in God? Does Alex?
What is different about Sarov’s beliefs and Alex’s?
Where do you think Alex gets his sense of right and wrong?
Do humans have more of a natural desire to do what is right or what is wrong?
- Why does Alex hate working for M16?
What would be the major differences between being an M16 agent and living the life of an average teenager?
Why does he decide that the so-called glamorous life of a spy is not what he wants?
What would Alex like about your life? What do you like about his?
- Does Alex want to go on the mission to Skeleton Key?
Why does he go?
What does he do to help his partners and prevent Sarov from carrying out his evil plans?
How can someone not want to do something, but still do it to the best of his ability?
Read Colossians 3:23.
Whatever you do, how are you supposed to work at it?
Why is it hard to do everything as if you're doing it for Christ?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.