Skeleton Key, just south of Cuba, is the scene of some nefarious goings-on. The CIA is trying to find out what it’s all about but some of their agents have already disappeared, so they want to “borrow” Alex Rider, 14-year-old British spy/hero, to help under-cover operatives Glen Carver and Belinda Troy enter Cuban territory as a family on vacation. All Alex has to do is kick back and relax on the beach while Carver and Troy investigate. But something isn’t right. As usual, Alex is being kept in the dark — both by his MI6 chief Alan Blunt and Joe Byrne of the CIA. And pretty soon, he’s also on his own!
Skeleton Key, third book in the Alex Rider series, is packed full of action. From discovering a plot to rig the Wimbledon tennis matches, to being hunted by a Chinese triad called the Big Circle, to being run down by a jet ski while riding “The Cribber” in Cornwall, and dodging a white shark off Skeleton Key, Horowitz, as usual, writes exciting passages with knowledge any privileged 14-year-old would know. And Alex is part of the privileged class. Orphaned as an infant, and raised by his dashing Uncle Ian, Alex has traveled extensively. Only after his uncle’s death, does Alex discover Ian Rider was a spy for MI6. He now lives with a housekeeper and attends high school like any normal teenager. Except for when he’s pulled out to go undercover himself to “help save the world”.
There are lots of interesting characters in this novel. Sarov, a former Russian general, lives on an estate on Skeleton Key called Casa de Oro (House of Gold). He is rich, powerful, and ruthless, and has acquired a nuclear weapon. His henchman Conrad, is even more ruthless. He looks like a jigsaw puzzle, a Humpty Dumpty who hasn’t quite been put back together properly. But despite his looks, he is strong and adept, and he enjoys killing way too much. Then, there are the two agents, Carver and Troy. He’s full of boyish enthusiasm but doesn’t seem to have a 6th sense for danger; she’s afraid and can’t think on her feet. He thinks things are simple and straightforward; she sees dangers everywhere but can’t handle the unexpected. Alex, still just a kid, really, is just the opposite. Hackles rise on the back of his neck to warn him of a bad situation, his instincts are finely honed, and he is able to improvise quickly and take action.
As usual, Horowitz writes clear, detailed, fast-paced scenarios that pull you into the story. Simple, yet extremely effective gadgets are designed by Smithers (MI6) for our young, Bond-like hero, and don’t stretch our credulity too much. I’m not sure why Horowitz has painted the CIA agents as being so completely inept unless it’s just to accent Alex’s instincts and abilities. But certainly, this is a thoroughly engaging romp through international sports, crime, and politics, and is a quick and easy read for junior and early-teen readers. * * * *
The Alex Rider series is available from Amazon
as individual books or a boxed set.