Cover image for Skeleton key
Skeleton key
Haddam, Jane, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, [2000]

Physical Description:
276 pages ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



Kayla Anson, the only surviving child and heir of a multibillionaire capitalist, is being touted as the most glamorous debutante of the season. So when Bennis Hannaford, staying overnight at the Ansons' home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, finds Kayla's murdered body in the front seat of her BMW parked in the garage, she knows it is really going to hit the fan.

And does it ever, leaving Bennis stuck in Connecticut while the inexplicable murder is being investigated. At her request, Bennis's lover, former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian, comes up from Philadelphia to help the local authorities. It soon becomes apparent that much is going on under the quiet exterior of this town and the first murder is only the beginning.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Here's the fifteenth mystery featuring FBI agent-turned-sleuth Gregor Demarkian, and it's a real winner. When Bennis Hannaford, Gregor's lover, discovers the murdered body of a young debutante, she drags Gregor out of his comfortable Philadelphia apartment to Litchfield County, Connecticut, where he finds an assortment of potential suspects and a town that isn't as peaceful as it pretends to be. Like an Agatha Christie novel, this story features a large cast of characters, any one of whom could conceivably be a killer. Also like a Christie novel, the story is propelled more by dialogue than by action. Haddam (who lives in Litchfield County) has created a very realistic tale that's sure to grab readers from the first page. Unlike many mysteries that feature large casts of would-be murderers, the solution to this one isn't obvious from the get-go, and readers will have lots of fun trying to guess whodunit. A fine entry in a fine series. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

In Haddam's 15th entry in her entertaining Gregor Demarkian series (Deadly Beloved, etc.), Bennis Hannaford discovers the murdered body of debutante heiress Kayla Anson during a Halloween visit to the Anson estate in a posh area of Connecticut. Bennis summons her lover, Gregor, retired head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, from Philadelphia to help the local police. These logistics out of the way, Haddam settles into another clever plot-driven village cozy. Two more people are murdered: publicity-hungry Zara Anne Moss, who said she saw the killer, and Margaret Anson, Kayla's vengeful, money-hungry mother. Gregor studies area maps and interviews locals to separate clues from elaborate red herrings: a telephone pole knocked over, a stolen Jeep smashed in the Fairchild Family Cemetery and a skeleton from a nearby museum left on the caretakers' porch. Haddam excels at showing the chilling gulf between the arrogant wealthy and the climbers desperate to join them. One of her most complex characters is penniless divorc‚e Sally Martindale. Humiliated by her bookkeeping job at the exclusive Swamp Tree Country Club, Sally embezzles from members' accounts, foolishly hoping that a gambling win will restore her status among club members. In an anomalous subplot, Bennis is stricken with pneumonia and Gregor insists that she stop smoking. Haddam's well-meaning message about the perils of tobacco seems shoehorned into an otherwise smoothly running mystery marked by lively characters, good descriptions and enough misdirection to keep a reader's interest high. (Feb.) FYI: Jane Haddam is the pseudonym of Oriana Papazoglou. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Connecticut police consult series sleuth and ex-FBI agent Gregor Demarkian when Bennis Hannaford (Demarkian's love interest) discovers the body of Kayla Anson, a beautiful young heiress. Demarkian closely analyzes clues, reconstructs Kayla's last days, looks for her motives in those who knew her, and still worries about Hannaford's persistent racking cough. As usual, Haddam spends a lot of time developing complex secondary characters: Kayla's uptight, unfeeling mother; her promiscuous, wayward cousin; a recently unemployed, unhusbanded embezzler; and Kayla's older, off-and-on boyfriend. Demarkian closes in, but not before more victims appear. A sophisticated style, excellent delivery, and riveting plot make this an excellent choice for all collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One 1 For Gregor Demarkian, the most frightening thing was not that he couldn't sleep when Bennis was not at home, but that it mattered so much to him that Bennis shouldn't know he couldn't sleep when she was not at home. Like everything else about his relationship with Bennis Hannaford, this was a thought so convoluted that he almost couldn't express it in words. He got it tangled up. He started talking nonsense, even in his own mind. Then he would get out of bed and go down the short hall to his living room. He would make himself coffee strong enough so that he wouldn't even have to think about trying to sleep for hours. He would stand in front of the broad window in his living room and look down on Cavanaugh Street. This morning, like all mornings, was a dark and silent one. There might be crises in other parts of Philadelphia, crimes and accidents, parties that raged so loudly they broke windows in houses across the street, but in this place there was only sleep, punctuated by streetlamps.     He had a digital clock on the table next to his bed, one of the kind with numbers that glowed red. When he woke up, it said 2:37:09. He turned over onto his back and stared up into the dark. When he had first bought this apartment--when he was still newly retired from the FBI, and newly a widower--there had been times when he had thought he could hear his dead wife's voice in the hallway, or her movements in the kitchen. That was true even though she had never been in these rooms. She had never even been on Cavanaugh Street when these rooms were in existence. Her memory of this neighborhood had been like his, then: a marginal ethnic enclave, marked by decaying buildings and elderly people who just didn't have the resources to move. He still thought of the street that way sometimes, the way it had been on the day he and Elizabeth had come to Philadelphia to bury his mother. Sometimes he thought of it even further back, when he was growing up, when it was full of tenements and ambition. This was something he had never been able to work out. How much of a person's childhood stayed with him forever? How much could he just walk away from, as if it had never been? Sometimes, sitting with Bennis in a restaurant or listening to her complain about work or parking tickets, it seemed to Gregor that the gulf between them was unbridgeable. Bennis, after all, had been born in a mansion on the Philadelphia Main Line.     When the clock said 2:45:00, Gregor sat up and got one of his robes. When Bennis was here, she always took one. It felt wrong, somehow, to actually be able to lay hands on his favorite and use it, for himself. He went down the hall and through the living room into the kitchen. He opened his refrigerator and took out a big plate of stuffed grape leaves. Lida Arkmanian had brought them over to him, as she did even when Bennis was here. Bennis couldn't cook. Gregor and Lida had gone to school together right here on Cavanaugh Street, in the days when children got new shoes only for Easter and getting them was an event.     "Stuffed grape leaves," Lida had told him, when they first began having coffee together, that Christmas after Gregor had moved back to Philadelphia. "Not stuffed vine leaves. For goodness sake, Krekor, you sound like a yuppie."     Stuffed grape leaves didn't have to be heated up. Coffee did, but that meant only putting the kettle on the stove and getting out the Folgers crystals. Gregor took a large white mug and a small white plate out of the cabinet and put them on the kitchen table. He took stuffed grape leaves out of the bowl and put them on the plate. He made a mountain of grape leaves, high enough to be unsteady. He wished somebody was awake, somewhere on the street, or that Bennis was staying in an ordinary hotel where he could call her at any hour of the night. Instead, Bennis was staying in some rich woman's spare bedroom, and even Father Tibor Kasparian would be passed out on his couch with a book on his chest.     Was it even possible, to find someone to love when you were nearly sixty? And what was it supposed to mean? With Elizabeth, he had had all the usual things. They had started out together young. They had built a life, and would have built a family, if they had ever been able to have children. That kind of marriage was made of little things--a tiny apartment made the scene of many small sacrifices, endured to save the money for the down payment on a house; a period of trial and error over cookbooks; the choice of lights and decorations for a Christmas tree. Gregor understood that kind of marriage. He understood what it was for and why he had gone into it. He even understood, finally, that it had not all been ruined because Elizabeth had died badly. It was terrible what cancer did to people, and not just to the people who had it.     The problem with this--situation--with Bennis was that he didn't have a name for it. It wasn't a marriage. They weren't married, and Gregor wasn't even sure that Bennis would marry him if he asked. They had other things together, things Gregor had never had with anyone else--they had gone off alone together, to Spain, for an entire month, just a little while ago, and the memories of it could still make Gregor turn bright red--but he was sure you couldn't base a life on that kind of thing. It wore off eventually, or the woman got tired, or you did. Besides, he and Bennis had been together for years before they had been together like that . Bennis had bought her apartment, on the floor just below this one, just to be near to where he lived. They had to have something going with each other, something deeper and more complicated, maybe even something simply more mundane, than--     --sex.     The water was boiling. Gregor took the kettle off the stove. He dumped a heaping teaspoon of Folgers crystals into the bottom of his mug. Then, thinking better of it, he added another. He took the water off the stove and poured it over the instant coffee. He watched the water turn a darker brown than he should have allowed himself to make it.     Maybe this was the problem, the thing he hadn't been able to get past. Maybe it was the sex that was bothering him. Because the more he thought about it, the more he realized that sex had been filling his life, taking it over, ever since they had gone to Spain. It wasn't that they spent all their time actually having sex. If it had been that, it would have been over very quickly. Gregor wasn't twenty anymore, and he had no intention of getting addicted to Viagra. It was that he seemed to spend all his time thinking about sex, or about things related to sex. Before Spain, when he had called up an image of Bennis in his mind, it had been Bennis in her working uniform: jeans, knee socks, turtleneck, cotton crew-neck sweater. Now, when he called up such an image, he saw her in the gray silk nightgown she had bought especially to be with him in Spain, or in one of his shirts, buttoned only halfway up, and asleep next to him in bed.     "Sex gets in the way of friendship," he said aloud, trying it out. He felt instantaneously foolish. That was the kind of thing boys said to girls in high school, or girls said to boys--the kind of thing that, before you knew any better, you thought was kinder than coming right out and telling someone you found her unattractive.     Gregor considered putting milk in his coffee and rejected it. He didn't want to cut the strength of the caffeine. The caffeine was the point. He picked the mug up in one hand and the plate of stuffed grape leaves in the other and went into the living room. He put the mug and the plate down on the coffee table and went over to the window.     Cavanaugh Street, these days, was not a marginal place. The tenements were gone. The brownstone row houses had been converted into single-family townhouses or, like this one, refurbished into three or four floor-through cooperative apartments. The cramped little rooms Gregor remembered from his childhood had been knocked together. His own apartment had a living room large enough to play table tennis in and a big fireplace with a grey marble surround and a mantel made of polished walnut. Across the street, one floor down, Lida Arkmanian's townhouse had a living room that took up two-thirds of the entire second floor. The last third had been made into a dining room.     Things change, that was what he had to remember. Things change, and not all the changes are for the worse. Elizabeth had died, yes, but Cavanaugh Street had gotten rich. Bennis had given up her restlessness to settle with him. The local school district had given up on corporal punishment and rote learning to dedicate itself to critical thinking. Richard Nixon had resigned.     Gregor thought he might be losing his mind.     Instead of sitting down on the couch, he picked up his coffee and grape leaves and took them into the bedroom. He put them down on the table in the corner and sat at the chair there to boot up the computer. The computer had been a gift from Bennis, as had a year's subscription to America Online. Gregor still hadn't been able to get the hang of the Internet. It still seemed to him like a waste of time.     Gregor waited for the desktop icons to settle on the screen--there was cat wallpaper, engineered for him by Donna Moradanyan Donahue, who hadn't been able to stand the gray ugliness of the default background that had been built into the machine--then clicked the mouse in all the right places and brought up the Free Cell board. He had never in his life heard of Free Cell before he got this computer, and now he seemed to be addicted to it.     The real problem with the--situation--with Bennis, Gregor decided, as he moved cards around the board, was that they'd both spent so long deciding to create it that they didn't know what to do with it now that they had it. If they were honest with each other, they would have to say that they had both wanted to be lovers from the moment they first saw each other, in Bennis's father's Main Line house. Even though Gregor had not been over the death of his wife. Even though Bennis had been living with a man in Boston. They had wanted to be lovers and resisted their desire, and now all they really knew how to do was to go on resisting each other.     This was beginning to sound like a college bull session going on inside his head--except that Gregor had never been part of a college bull session. He had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, but he had been a commuter student, living right here in a tenement on Cavanaugh Street, taking the bus across town.     If I'm going to go on thinking like this, Gregor told himself, I'd better start drinking. At least then I could blame it on the alcohol.     Then he bent toward the screen and concentrated on the cards, red queen to black king, three of hearts to the stack pile at the top.     He was still bent over the screen an hour later, when the phone rang. 2 It wasn't until he heard the sound of her voice, going rapid-fire through all the details, that Gregor realized that he really had been worried about it--worried, on some level, that Bennis was just going to disappear. Now he knew he should be concerned about this mess she had gotten herself in, about the body she had found in the car, about the way she had had to, or felt she had to, pack up and move in the middle of the night. Instead, all he could feel was calm, and a certain light happiness at the sound of her voice. Even the cough didn't bother him, although it had in the weeks before she left for Connecticut. That cough had been going on much too long. It seemed to have become harsher and more insistent in the less than a day she had been gone.     "So," Bennis was saying. "That's where we are. I'm at the Mayflower Inn. Which is beautiful, really, but it's about two hundred and fifty years old."     "You like old."     "Not after Margaret Anson's house, I don't. God, that woman is unbelievable. And I'm not going to be able to get rid of her for weeks now. Not until this is over. If this is ever over. I keep reminding myself that the police fail to solve crimes all the time. Are you going to come out here and help?"     "I'll come out and help you." Gregor stood up and pushed himself away from the computer table. He couldn't concentrate on the cards anymore, and he'd been losing so badly it was embarrassing anyway. Bennis sometimes said he had a learning disability that applied only to games of solitaire. He didn't tell her how miserably he lost at poker. Now he sat down on the bed and switched the phone from one ear to the other.     "I can't just go rushing in and disrupting a police investigation," he said. "It's not my investigation."     "Well, it can be if you want. The thing is, they've got this police department, it's maybe got two people in it. And then they've got the state police."     "I think it's the local police departments that investigate murders, Bennis. Not the state police."     "Well, actually, that's not exactly clear. You see, the thing is, there's more than one town involved. There's Washington Depot, but then there's also Watertown, and maybe Morris."     "Are these towns all close together?"     "Yes. Exactly. They all bump into each other. And about the first thing that happened, after we called the police, is that the call was picked up by the state police, because one of the towns has something called a resident trooper--"     "Resident trooper?"     "Right. That's where, if a town is too small to be able to afford its own police force, the state pays to have a state trooper live in town and do the police stuff. And there isn't usually a lot of it, because these are really small places and nothing much happens in them."     "All right."     "Anyway, one of these towns has a resident trooper, and he picked up the police call and checked on it, because it turned out that he'd seen the car."     "The car?" Gregor was beginning to feel a little dizzy.     "Kayla Anson's car," Bennis told him. "It's this little BMW. And according to this guy--the resident trooper--it went through the center of Morris about ten minutes after eight this evening, doing maybe ninety, ninety-five miles an hour on this road that's narrow and all hills and twists and turns and--"     "Are you sure this woman didn't die in an automobile accident?"     "Yes, Gregor, of course I'm sure. The point is, the resident trooper isn't a resident trooper for the town of Morris, because Morris has its own police department. He works in--Cornwall Bridge, I think. I'm not sure. He just happened to be in Morris at the time. And he saw the car. And he was in his cruiser, but he couldn't really chase it because he didn't have jurisdiction, and also I don't think he wanted to. I mean, that kind of behavior on the roads out here is suicidal."     "This is the car she died in," Gregor said.     "Well, it's the car I found her dead in, Gregor. I don't think there's any way we can know right now if she actually--"     "Okay. Yes. Now--"     "Oh, well. So what the resident trooper did was call ahead to Washington Depot and warn them about what she was doing. Anyway, when the police call came about her being dead there was one of those technical descriptions of the car going back and forth, you know, and so the resident trooper picked up the message and got in contact, and then some guy on the Watertown police department--no, wait, that's not right, some woman--"     "I don't think it matters."     "Whatever. Anyway, the thing is, the Watertown police had this stolen car case, and they were looking into it, and one of the things they had some witness saying was that they saw this stolen car, this Jeep, and it seemed to be following the BMW."     "Wait. The BMW is the one you found the body in. The one that was doing ninety miles an hour."     "Right. And this was about seven o'clock or so. So the Watertown police got into it. And now they're saying that they might just bring in the state police and let them handle it, because when you have a bunch of towns like this it can be hard to sort out jurisdiction, because you don't know what happened where. Do you see what I mean?"     "Sort of. It still doesn't mean I can go barging in there throwing around advice nobody has asked me for, Bennis. Much as I'd like to. Because you're involved."     "Oh, I know. But that's the thing. I talked to the resident trooper. And he knew who you were. And he thought--"     " He thought?"     "Well, okay. I brought it up. But they've spent money on psychics in this state, Gregor, at least you'd actually do some good. And they all know who you are. Even the town cops do. And they want you to help. It's not as if you'd gone and retired or anything."     Gregor lay back on the bed and put his feet up. It was true. He hadn't retired. He just hadn't taken much work lately. He wasn't quite sure why that was. There had been times in his life when he had been thoroughly sick of work. He had spent twenty years in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the last ten of them as head of the behavioral sciences unit, the section dedicated to the tracking of serial killers. That had gotten old so fast it had left him breathless. There had been times, with one more string of child murders lying on his desk, or the arrival of a new set of photographs meant to show what had been found in yet another series of unmarked graves, when he would gladly have chucked it all and become an accountant. There had been other times, like when he had first started consulting for police departments after he'd moved to Philadelphia, when he'd been enormously gratified to be able to do the work he could do. Lately he'd just been--distracted.     "Gregor?     "I'm here," he said. "Are you sure you're all right, where you are? At this hotel?"     "It's a Revolutionary War-era inn. And it's beautiful. And I'm fine. Except that I miss you."     "I miss you, too."     "So come on out. At least keep me company. You can talk to the state police when you get here. And you don't have to consult if you don't want to."     "Are you going to have to be there for any length of time?"     "I don't know," Bennis said.     "All right," Gregor said. "Do you mind if I tell you that this sounds like a script for a Woody Allen movie?'     "No, Gregor, I don't mind. You should have been in the middle of it. I think there must be all kinds of people around here who do nothing but monitor the police band. You wouldn't believe the commotion. And Margaret Anson. I mean. Oh, hell. Margaret Anson ."     Gregor turned over on his side. "So," he said. "Have you worked it out? Can I get there from here? Washington Depot sounds like a train station."     "It used to be. It isn't anymore. And I have worked it out. Do you mind?"     "Not at all. You've always been--meticulous about that sort of thing."     "Thanks a lot."     "It wasn't an insult. Besides, I like you to act like yourself. How complicated is this going to be?"     "Not so much complicated as long, Gregor. You take the Amtrak to New York. You take the shuttle to Grand Central. You take the New Haven line to Bridgeport. You take the bud car to Waterbury. I'll pick you up in Waterbury. Tomorrow."     "All right."     "There's just one thing. There's only one train to Waterbury a day. So--"     " One train?"     "You've got to be at Grand Central by nine-thirty in the morning. That will get you here around twelve. You got that?"     "Bennis--"     "I'll talk to you tomorrow," Bennis said.     "I love you," Gregor started to say, but Bennis was already gone. The phone was humming in his ear.     He got up and put the receiver down, so that he would no longer be cut off from the world. 3 Twenty minutes later--suddenly tired, but still not able to sleep--Gregor went to his closet and got out his most casual pants. They were khakis, not jeans, because no matter how many times he tried jeans he felt silly in them, and he suspected he looked silly, as well. Some things did not change, and one of those things was that he was a very formal man. He found a shirt and put that on, too, a white one with a button-down collar. He found a sweater he'd left lying over the back of a chair. He put his loafers on without bothering with socks. This was as rakish as he got. It was also the best he could do at four o'clock in the morning.     Four o'clock.     In the apartment upstairs, Donna and Russ and Tommy were sleeping out one of their last nights before they moved to a townhouse down the street. In the apartment on the ground floor, old George Tekemanian was curled up in a bed that his grandson had bought him, a bed that did everything but sing the theme song from The Sound of Music . Down the street, the Ararat restaurant was closed, and wouldn't open for another three hours.     Gregor let himself out into the hall and closed the door behind him. Then he pulled at the knob to make sure it was locked. He walked down one flight of steps and stopped in front of Bennis's door. He checked to make sure that that was locked, too, although he'd done it half a dozen times in the last day. It hadn't been locked right after she left, of course, because Bennis never bothered to lock doors. But Gregor had been ready for that.     He made his way down the rest of the stairs and through the foyer onto the stoop. The air was cold and bright under the streetlamps. The street looked naked. In any other year, Donna would have decorated by now. She would have wrapped their brownstone in black and orange crepe paper and put out jack-o'-lanterns and plastic goblins and cardboard witches riding on real broomsticks that went right across the roof. This year, Gregor supposed, she had just too much to do.     Some things change that are for the worse.     Gregor went down the street to Holy Trinity Church. He went around the back on the little cobblestone path and let himself through the low wrought-iron gate into the courtyard. He noticed that the vines that wound around the pillars next to Tibor's front door were out of control again. Tibor never remembered to call the yard service that was supposed to take care of things like that.     Gregor knocked, got no answer, and used his key. He fumbled with the door for a good three minutes before he realized that the door hadn't been locked in the first place, and that he was only locking himself out. He got the mess turned around the right way and stepped into Tibor's foyer. Stacks of paperback books rose from the floor on both sides, leaning dangerously toward the center, ending well above his head. He took one down at random and found he was holding a copy of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus . He put it back.     "Tibor?" he called out.     There was no answer. He made his way through yet more stacks of books and into the living room. Tibor was, as usual, laid out on the couch, fully clothed, with books all over him. Gregor didn't think the man ever actually slept in his bed.     "Tibor," Gregor said again. It wasn't a question this time. It was a command.     Tibor squirmed slightly on the couch. Gregor went over to him and took the books off his chest. He had Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique , in hardcover; Aristotle's Nicomachian Ethics , in ancient Greek; and a paperback copy of John Grisham's The Street . Gregor was very careful not to lose Tibor's place in any of them. He left them open on the floor.     "Tibor," Gregor said, louder this time.     Tibor stirred on the couch, turned on his side. Squinted his eyes open.     "Krekor?"     "I need to talk to you," Gregor said.     Tibor turned side to side, and then seemed to make up his mind. He let his legs swing off the side of the couch and brought himself slowly, more or less, upright.     "I fell asleep on the couch again," he said. "Did I sleep through my alarm clock again? Is it time for breakfast?"     "It's four o'clock in the morning."     "Four."     "I needed to talk to you about something."     "You should not let Bennis go away on her own, even overnight," Tibor said. "When you do that, nobody can sleep."     "Tibor--"     "I know, I know," Tibor said. "You need somebody to help you understand love."     Gregor turned away and went looking for a chair. He had to take two piles of paperbacks off an ottoman to find a place to sit down. Maybe he was getting obsessive about this. Maybe he needed to do something--stabilizing--with his life.     Or something.     He sat down on the ottoman and stretched his feet out, trying to think of some way to begin.