|“||Sharks. Assassins. Nuclear Bombs. Alex Rider is in deep water||”|
—Skelton Key tagline
The book was released in the United Kingdom on July 8, 2002 and in the United States on April 28, 2009.
On a coveted holiday destination just off the coast of Cuba, a mad general has intentions to undo history—and only Alex can stop him.
The book, Skeleton Key, opens with, Marc, Carlo and an unnamed pilot, flying to meet with General Alexei Sarov in Cayo Esqueleto (Spanish for "Skeleton Key"), a fictional island just off Cuba to exchange a kilogram of uranium for money the general has promised them. Due to a supply problem, the price had risen by $500,000. Sarov pays the men the agreed upon price, and agrees to have the rest wired to the Salesman, from whom he purchased the uranium. The two warn him they will alert the American Intelligence if the extra money isn't received in three days. Assuming this to be a threat, Sarov turns the runway lights off when the two leave, then turns on a second set of lights that lead into the mangroves, which causes the plane to enter the swamplands, trapping it. Sarov watches as the three men are devoured by the inhabiting crocodiles. He then loads the uranium in the Jeep he comes in and leaves.
Meanwhile, it is revealed Alex Rider had in fact 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 Chinese guard and decides to investigate, but the guard turns the tables and attempts to kill him. Alex knocks out the man and learns that he was a member of the Chinese Triad gang "Big Circle" who was attempting match fixing. Alex is targeted by the triad gang as a second member again attempts to kill him while surfing on vacation with Sabina in Cornwall; he comes close to drowning but Sabina manages to save his life. 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 unhappy about bringing Alex and they attempt to withhold as much of the truth 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, is aware of Turner's true identity and ties him up. Alex manages to board the boat and set fire to it, causing a distraction. A firefight ensues, with Alex and Turner escaping. The Salesman attempts to run the vessel into the pair, but the boat later explodes, killing everyone on board. Far from showing gratitude for his life being spared, Turner instead blames Alex for the explosion, and Alex tries to defend himself. It later transpires that Conrad, Sarov's main henchman, planted an explosive on the boat, fearing the Salesman may contact American Intelligence.
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, in truth, 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. The shark is then killed by the trap as well. When he resurfaces, the boat driver has been killed and Alex is captured by Conrad, who puts a sack over his head and drugs him unconscious. 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, but 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. The general tells Alex he will know more 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 officer tells Alex how he wishes to adopt him since he shares many traits with Vladamir due to their generally 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 with Sarov and Kiriyenko. He is however caught by Sarov thanks to a heartbeat detector - the general spares Alex's life yet again but punishes him through psychological torture. 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 render them all unconscious and they are then moved to the slave house. Sarov 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 then outlines his plan to Alex: he wishes 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, allowing Sarov to take 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 flashbang 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 restrains Alex to a handrail close to the submarines with handcuffs. Sarov approaches him and bids him farewell before leaving, saying that while he hates to do it, he would have to kill Alex. He would then continue to Moscow, where a group of men fanatically loyal to him are waiting. Alex sets himself free by using expanding bubble gum (again supplied by Smithers). Conrad notices this and lowers himself out of the crane to engage Alex. Suddenly, the Russian armed forces, including the army and navy, arrives and engages Sarov's men in combat. In their fight, Conrad outmatches Alex 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 control of the crane, dropping Conrad's body into the sea and removing 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, who is injured but still alive. Refusing to be Sarov's son, Alex says he would rather die and throws the card into the ocean. Unable to accept this, and unwilling to be put on trial, Sarov shoots himself.
In the epilogue of the novel, it transpires 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 in turn 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.
- The tagline, "Alex Rider is in deep water -- again" is a reference to a chapter title in Stormbreaker, "Deep Water", where Alex had to survive in a tank with the Portuguese Man-o'-war.
- Anthony Horowitz had to rewrite Skeleton Key for release in the USA, making the CIA and its agents more likable.
- Skeleton Key (graphic novel)
- Skeleton Key - Walker Books
- Skeleton Key Mission - Alex Rider official website
|Skeleton Key Characters|
|Alex Rider • Alan Blunt • Tulip Jones • Jack Starbright • Alexei Sarov • Sabina Pleasure|
|Other Key Characters|
|Joe Byrne • Smithers • Belinda Troy • Tom Turner • Conrad • John Crawley • Boris Kiriyenko|