Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review: The Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner (Code Buster Club #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Solid mystery with codes added for more fun
Cons: Characters a little thin, but target audience won’t care
The Bottom Line:
Codes added to clues
Sure to delight young readers
Hours of secret fun

Codes are Key to this Middle Grade Mystery

I’ve long been a fan of Penny Warner’s books for adults, so I’ve always been curious about her middle grade mysteries.  I bought the first three in her Code Busters Club series a couple years back, but I’m just now getting a chance to read the first one.  The Secret of the Skeleton Key was just as much fun as I thought it would be.

Cody and her three friends, Quinn, Luke, and M.E., have formed a club dedicated to learning codes, giving each other codes to crack, and solving mysteries.  And a mystery is just what they’ve found when Quinn and Cody observe some strangers in a neighbor’s house.  Mr. Skelton lives alone and creates weird yard art.  So why are there suddenly two other people in Mr. Skelton’s house?  Cody observes mysterious symbols in his window.  And then his house catches on fire.  What’s going on?

I can easily see this book capturing the imagination of any kid who reads it.  Most of the chapters feature a code that the characters use to communicate with each other or to piece together the next part of the mystery.  The solution to the code is given at the end of the book along with lots of information on the codes discussed.  That way, you can use the codes with your own friends once you’ve finished the book.  What kid could resist?

The mystery is very well done.  The codes provide the steps needed to propel the characters toward the solution.  And what a great solution we wind up with at the end of the book.  This book will keep readers turning pages until they reach the end.

The characters are typical for a middle grade series – which means that adults will find them a little thin.  Cody is the one we get to know the best since we follow her third person point of view for the entire book.  However, this is a complaint only adults will have.  Based on my own reading as a kid, I know that kids will love these characters.

At 200 pages, this is a fast read, but the codes at the end will provide hours of entertainment for kids when they are done learning The Secret of the Skeleton Key.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.


  1. I've added it to my TBR list. Your review sold me. Thanks.

  2. I love books with puzzles and codes. This one sounds great.

  3. I'm glad to hear the mystery was good and that the characters were okay. I like how the reader can solve codes too. Thanks for the review!
    - Vi

  4. This book sounds great! I love good mysteries. Thanks for the review!

  5. Code mysteries don't do very well in my library. My blood thirsty readers want murder mysteries. They don't understand why there aren't more of them for 12 year olds. Sigh!

  6. Yes, kids love mysteries. This sounds like a good one.