The Skeleton Key is Tara Moss’s ninth novel and the third instalment in her Pandora English series. This is the first time I’ve read Tara Moss, and the reason for her widespread appeal was apparent to me from the opening scene. The Skeleton Key is an easy read: the sort of book you can fall through in a couple of sittings.
One of Moss’s greatest strengths is her ability to bring you up close to her distinctive, original characters. Funny, sassy, and yet also vulnerable, 19-year-old Pandora is a sharply drawn, believable character – one with whom you’ll feel an immediate connection.
All kinds of funky stuff are going down in her Great-Aunt Celia’s haunted digs in spooky Spektor, but Pandora makes the most of her otherwise very comfortable accommodation. The fact that she is staying rent-free and has access to Vlad, the silent but reliable undead chauffeur, also offsets the things that frequently go bump in the night at Number One Addams Avenue.
By day, Pandora works at Pandora mag in SoHo, alongside her goth pal, Morticia (yep – Vlad, Addams, Morticia – Moss has a lot of fun with monikers in this book and so will you.) Their boss, the mysterious Skye DeVille, keeps odd hours and refers managerial duties to her cool and officious deputy editor, Pepper.
As a foreboding Crow Moon looms over Manhattan, Pandora heads out for a night on the town with Lieutenant Luke, her dapper, otherworldly beau. When Luke smoke bombs in the middle of their enchanting evening, Pandora suspects foul play and returns to Spektor in search of clues.
Pandora is surrounded by an array of creepy and often deadly types (you’ll love the bitchy, savage supermodels, Blonde and Redhead, and the bleak widow Barrett, who endlessly roams the halls in her mourning dress when she’s not – um – hanging around).
Celia’s haunted mansion is a character in itself, with its trap doors, spectral inhabitants, and dark secrets. Fabulously fiendish Deus inhabits a casket in one of the mansion’s antechambers and speaks in strange riddles. One of the Sanguine (please don’t use the ‘V’ word), Deus is an unlikely ally upon whom Pandora is forced to depend.
Seventh in the Lucasta matrilineal line, Pandora in fact possesses arcane powers of her own. Handy, really, and she’s going to need all the help she can get when things turn super freaky. Throughout The Skeleton Key, Moss incorporates Gothic archetypes, myth, legend, and history, in an enormously enjoyable, escapist tale. It really is a lot of fun and I suspect that Moss had a great time weaving the various supernatural elements together.
At no point does the plot sag in this page-turning mystery. You don’t need to read the other Pandora English novels to enjoy The Skeleton Key, though it will whet readers’ appetites and you’ll likely want to track down the first two. Its December release date sees the latest Pandora English tale hitting shelves just as we’re looking for stocking fillers and it’s a great gift choice for fans of paranormal mysteries and fast, entertaining reads. With its vibrant characters, intriguing plot line, and healthy dose of wry humour, The Skeleton Key showcases Tara Moss’s command of her genre and apparently effortless ability to keep her readers on the hook until the very last word. Recommended.
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia, 1 Dec, 2012.
Paperback, 290 pages.