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Literature / Family Skeleton Mysteries

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Family Skeleton Mysteries is an Urban Fantasy and "Cozy Mystery" series by Toni Kelner (writing as Leigh Perry), focused on Dr. Georgia Thackery, an adjunct college professor and single mother, who's recently moved back into her childhood home while her parents are off touring in Europe... and consequently, back in with her best friend Sid, an ambulatory human skeleton who's lived with them since she was six. The two subsequently end up as amateur sleuths, solving mysteries that come their way.

The series includes:

  • #1: A Skeleton in the Family (2013)
  • #2: The Skeleton Takes a Bow (2014)
  • #3: The Skeleton Haunts a House (2015)
  • #4: The Skeleton Paints a Picture (2017)
  • #5: The Skeleton Makes a Friend (2018)
  • #6: The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking (2019)


This series provides examples of:

  • A Woman and Her Ambulatory Skeleton: Georgia and Sid.
  • Actor Allusion: Or rather, "Author Allusion". In book 2, Georgia and Sid spend some time investigating the Sandra Sechrest Foundation, ostensibly offering grants to graduate students so they can attend academic conferences but really hiring them to take the SATs for high school students, helping them to cheat the system. While no in-universe connection between them is made, Sandra Sechrest was also the name of a character and murder victim in the author's earlier "Where Are They Now?" Mysteries series.
  • Alpha Bitch: Book 3 had a quartet of them. They were a group of high school girls who made a game of viciously trolling anyone they could online, and operated under the name "The Devil's Divas." And there's emphasis on vicious, like posting homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs, and going as far as telling a girl in a wheelchair that her mother should've aborted her. One of them bullied a girl so badly she killed herself, and then years later when she tried to atone for her actions, she confessed to the girl's sister... who then murdered her not because of her sister's death, but because her sister's death messed up her college dissertation's completion. To further drive the point home, none of them actually believed the bile they spread, as one was Jewish and another bisexual. Luckily, at least one person knew better than to listen to their comments — they tried to harass Madison at one point, but gave up when she ignored them.
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  • Absurd Phobia: Deborah is apparently afraid of inflatable arm-flailing tube men and the feel of rubber bands.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Georgia and Sid find themselves in this role in book 1, and keep it up.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Georgia suffers from a case of "fired for exposing the daughter of someone important as a cyberbully" at the end of book 3. She can finish out the current semester, but will need a new job afterward.
  • Attempted Rape: A man tries to molest a six-year-old Georgia during a blackout at a carnival. Sid revives and scares him off.
  • Back from the Dead: This happened to Sid about thirty years before the events of the series. He's been hanging around ever since.
  • Bad with the Bone: A killer tries to use one of Sid's bones to hit Georgia. Sid takes control of it and hits the killer instead until he falls unconscious.
  • Big Brother Instinct: When Georgia was nearly molested as a child, this is what prompted Sid to come back from the dead and protect her — seeing her reminded him of his own little sister, who'd predeceased him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sid, on multiple occasions. Starting the night he first came back to life and saved Georgia from a child molester.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Byron the Akita isn't that big, but he is friendly.
  • Brain Bleach:
    • It's noted in book 1 that Sid occasionally wipes down with hydrogen peroxide to keep himself clean. In book 3, he applies this to the same function as Brain Bleach, asking for a skull bath because he's just gone through six months worth of posts from the "Devil's Divas" group (dedicated to their cyberbullying plans) and it made him feel dirty.
    • In the fourth book, Sid is disturbed beyond reason while investigating the files of a snotty art student in connection to the art thefts, and discovers her only crime is creating horrifically sexual, disgusting, anatomically correct crossover fan art from nearly every fandom out there. The only thing more horrifying than that is learning said art student has thousands of followers. As in book 3, he requests a skull bath to deal with the memories.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Haunted house attractions are noted for having caused this in a few people, including the man who tried to molest a six-year-old Georgia ( though Sid's revival also played a part), and at least one of the people attending McHades Hall.
  • The Bus Came Back: Yolanda "Yo" Jacobs returns in The Skeleton Stuffs A Stalking, now working as an adjunct herself at McQuaid.
  • Dem Bones: Sid, being a walking, talking skeleton.
  • Destroy the Evidence: Attempted in the conclusion of the first book, as Sid's killer intends to finish what he started by pulverizing Sid's skeleton and then using an acid bath to eliminate what's left. He's stopped in time.
  • Disappeared Dad: Madison's father Reggie, who responded to the news that Georgia was pregnant by going out and cheating on her. When she found out and he admitted it, she dumped him.
  • A Dog Ate My Homework: Discussed and subverted in the third book, when Georgia needs an excuse to get in touch with a former co-worker (in order to get information on the murder victim) and decides to open the conversation by asking him for copies of the lesson plans they'd worked out together. She says that "I couldn't claim that Byronnote  had eaten my homework, but nobody argued with a hard disk crash."
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: The killer in book 3 turns out to have been a supporting character who spent most of their time in the background, namely, Roxanne Beale, the frazzled grad student who was desperately trying to finish her jumbled dissertation with help from Georgia's mother. Georgia and Sid only learn she's the killer after discovering her sister was Driven to Suicide by the Devil's Divas.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Sid's encountered a few, who sense there's something inherently wrong about him.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Despite lacking eyebrows (or flesh), Sid is somehow able to give off the impression that he's doing this, as seen in book 2.
  • First-Name Basis: Georgia's referred to her father by his first name since she was young. When someone told her she shouldn't, she replied that since his current colleagues called him Phil and she was going to be one of his colleagues in academia someday, she should also call him Phil; Phil himself never objected. When she refers to him as "Dad" in a text to Madison in book 3, Madison immediately knows something's up and has Deborah call the police.
  • Fundraiser Carnival: McQuaid University has a haunted house attraction, McHades Hall, at its annual Halloween Howl, to raise funds for a scholarship.
  • Ghost Amnesia: With a side of Laser-Guided Amnesia. Sid remembers what it's like to be human and has no problems functioning like one among those who know of his existence, but suffers Loss of Identity up until a chance encounter with someone he knew while alive causes him to recall just a little bit.
  • Ghostly Goals: Sid's is apparently to be there for Georgia, since she needed him and still does.
  • Good Parents: Phil and Dab Thackery, Georgia and Deborah's parents, who are incredibly supportive of both of them (and their granddaughter Madison). They also happily welcomed Sid into the family when he turned up on their doorstep and consider him as much a part of the family as their daughters, though they didn't pay as much attention to him as he would have liked in later years (at least, until Georgia and Madison moved back in). Georgia herself also counts for Madison.
  • Haunted Fetter: The Thackery family has long theorized that Sid, the titular family skeleton, is either a really skinny zombie, or this trope — a ghost haunting his own bones. Main protagonist and narrator Georgia Thackery prefers the latter theory.
  • Helping Hands: After learning how to control his other bones from a distance (Sid's consciousness is based out of his skull), Sid uses one hand to write notes to Georgia, leading her to where his skull is.
  • Hide the Evidence: Why Sid was made into a skeleton, letting the killer hide him in plain sight in the Joshua Tay University anthropology department.
  • Human Mail: How book 4 opens — Georgia gets a pair of packages from her parents, and one turns out to contain Sid, who'd mailed himself to her new temporary address.
  • Implausible Deniability: Georgia's older sister Deborah begins ignoring Sid around the time she graduated high school, after deciding his existence was impossible and therefore not worth acknowledging. Despite the fact that he's lived with their family for eight or nine years by that point. She begins to acknowledge him again after he saves Georgia's life near the end of book 1.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Phone variant — In the first book, Georgia explains to Sid at one point that her old college roommate had done this when Georgia met a guy at a party and he'd promised he'd call, but supposedly never did. Years later, the roommate found religion and decided to confess her sins to everyone she'd ever wronged in the hope of getting forgiveness. In Georgia's case, that involved admitting the guy had called, but the roommate had answered and told him Georgia already had a boyfriend in the vain hopes of winning the guy for herself. This, among other things she confessed to, left Georgia too ticked at the other woman to do anything more than hang up on her. Repeatedly.
  • In Medias Res: Book 1 opens with Georgia and Sid in Dr. Jocasta Kirkland's house, and finding her dead body. Chapter 2 jumps back thirteen days earlier.
  • It's All About Me: The killer in book 3. Roxanne Beale's younger sister Doreen was cyberbullied by the Devil's Divas for so long she committed suicide. Roxanne's parents blamed her for letting it happen because she was supposed to meet Doreen the night she killed herself but was late. Then, a few years later, one of the Divas goes to Roxanne and admits her guilt in Doreen's death. But throughout all this, Roxanne doesn't actually care her sister is dead. She's angry because of how Doreen's suicide interrupted her first attempt at completing her dissertation, prolonging it and causing her to go through multiple advisers before reaching the deadline. As Roxanne goes on her Motive Rant, Georgia is disgusted at how Roxanne seems only annoyed about what Doreen's suicide did to her. It reaches the point that she holds the Thackerys at gunpoint to make absolutely sure she finally completes her project on time.
  • It's for a Book: In book 1, Georgia calls a former student of Joshua Tay University to ask for information about Allen Reece, another former student, under the pretense that it's for a journalism class assignment. The information she gets confirms what she suspected: Sid is Allen.
  • Lack of Empathy: Roxanne Beale is so obsessed with completing her mess of a dissertation she doesn't even really care that her sister committed suicide or that she framed an innocent woman, one who was actually helping her finish the work, just that her work kept getting delayed. In fact, the only reason Roxanne murders Kendall is because she had the audacity to mess up her life by bullying her sister to death.
  • The Maiden Name Debate: Dana Fenton kept her surname when she married her husband. Justified, because her family's name is on "Fenton's Family Festival", the carnival they run.
  • Man Bites Man: While the second book's villain is holding his detached skull, Sid bites him and holds on until the rest of him gets there.
  • Megaton Punch: Sid jokingly performs the Shinigami Chop on people at Mangachusetts. Late in the book, he does it for real, this time to his killer in order to save Georgia.
  • Missing Mom: In book 2, Madison's new friend Tristan McDaniels lives with his father after his parents divorced and his mother moved away. Subverted at the end of the book, when he goes to live with her in Boston.
  • Moment Killer: Twice in book 2, Georgia is having a friendly chat with Adam McDaniels, and his older (and less mature) son Adam Jr. manages to interrupt both times — first by honking the horn on their car outside, and later by just snorting in disgust at their interaction.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Georgia's full name is Georgia O'Keeffe Thackery.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    • Discussed and subverted when Georgia meets Brownie Mannix for the first time in book 1, and she explains that she's there because she's "trying to establish the provenance of a human skeleton that was recently donated to our collection". Brownie replies that he's been at the carnival since he was born, and he'd been sure there was no towner story he hadn't heard... "But you have indeed come up with a new one."
    • In book 2, Adam McDaniels is in pharmaceuticals, and mentions that every time he goes to a party, people ask if he has any free samples (and it's gotten old). Georgia remarks that she usually gets people commenting "You teach at a college? You must be really smart."
    • In book 3, Georgia mentions that once, when a guy heard her name, he started singing "Georgia On My Mind". And she hates that song.
  • Nice Guy: Sid, both before and after he died.
  • The Nicknamer: Nelson Paul McQuaid the Third, also known as Treasure Hunt, does this to almost everyone he meets, including himself. Among others, he refers to his son Brownlow "Brownie" Mannix as "College Boy" and Charles Peyton as "Britannica". Several of his carnival employees also go by nicknames he gave them, including Stewpot, Soda Pop and Gameboy.
  • Nom de Mom: Nelson Paul Mannix is revealed in book 3 to go by his mother's surname after a falling-out with his father.
  • Non-Residential Residence: Georgia's friend Charles Peyton secretly does this — he typically lives in unused classrooms or offices at whatever college where he's working at the time, keeping it secret from his employers because he'd be fired and probably blackballed if they ever found out about his squatting. When she's explaining it to her then-boyfriend, Georgia tells him that Charles prefers to dress like a gentleman, but at his typical salary, he couldn't afford both the clothes and a legal residence, and he'd always pick the former over the latter.
  • Not What It Looks Like: In book 2, Georgia's friend Charles Peyton suddenly starts avoiding her. Spurred by Sid's own suspicions, she starts to wonder if he's the killer she's been hunting for, since the victim was someone he disliked. When she finally confronts him, he admits that their nosy co-worker Sara Weiss had been making disparaging comments about his "girlfriend", and he thought she meant Georgia, so he was trying to keep some professional distance between them. Georgia politely explains that Sara was referring to the recently deceased Patty Craft, having become convinced Charles and Patty had had a thing for one another. Charles is rather righteously offended by the notion, and with the misunderstanding dealt with, he and Georgia make up.
  • On One Condition: In book 3, the origin of McQuaid University is revealed — after Persephone McQuaid died, attendance at the school she'd founded (the McQuaid School of Art) had dropped off to the point where the family gave the building and land to the town of Pennycross to use for a university with two conditions: first, both the building and university kept the McQuaid name. Second, the land they gave to Pennycross has to remain in use as part of the university, and if it doesn't, McQuaid Hall, the university's entrance, most of the quad and parts of two other buildings will all revert to the McQuaid family. Using McQuaid Hall for their annual haunted house event has kept the property from reverting, but if the haunted house doesn't reopen in a timely manner, the McQuaid family can reclaim it all, which would be a massive problem for the university. Eventually, the rightful heir to the property does reclaim it... but then donates it to the university permanently, with the conditions that it's renamed the Dana Fenton Building (after his wife) and is converted into office space for the college's adjunct professors.
  • Otaku: Madison quite happily refers to herself as one, and Georgia gets into a discussion with her friend Charles on what the term means in book 3.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Attempted with Treasure Hunt's father. He cut his son from his will after Treasure Hunt left home to live his own life rather than follow what his father wanted; however, he wasn't able to fully disinherit his son due to the conditions in Treasure Hunt's grandfather's will, which left McQuaid Hall to the eldest living male descendant in each generation. Treasure Hunt may have been the black sheep of the family, but he still qualified.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Discussed in book 1, when Sid chastises Georgia for using a rather obvious password for her computer — her daughter's name — and not even switching out the "i" in "Madison" for a 1.
  • Perpetual-Motion Monster: Sid doesn't need to eat or sleep to keep going, though being depressed does make it harder for him to hold himself together.
  • Person as Verb: Late in book 1, Georgia tells Sid she's figured out why he didn't want to tell Madison about himself — he was afraid she'd "pull a Deborah" (that is, ignore him and pretend he didn't exist), and he didn't think he could cope with that.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: The plot of book 4 involves Georgia and Sid discovering someone has been responsible for stealing and selling artwork belonging to the students at the art college she's now working for, and one of her co-professors got killed over it.
  • Pulling Themselves Together: Sid can disassemble and reassemble himself as needed. In book 2, he learns how to do it from longer distances.
  • Pungeon Master: Sid, who loves to make incredibly lame puns. Usually about his being a skeleton.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Sid is somehow able to give off this look, despite being a skeleton.
  • Put on a Bus: Yolanda "Yo" Jacobs, a graduate student who appeared in books 1 (where she examined Sid's skeleton, revealing that he was murdered) and 2 (shortly before her dissertation is due, that May), then vanishes for the next three books with no official explanation. When she reappears in book 6, working as a fellow adjunct at Georgia's current college, it's stated that the last time Georgia saw her, she was finishing her dissertation and preparing to enter the work force.
  • Quest for Identity: The first book's mystery begins as this, with Sid trying to find out who he was when he was alive, and soon adds Whodunnit to Me? to the mix.
  • Quit Your Whining: A tamer version than usual. After learning he was stabbed to death, Sid begins to fear he was a criminal, such as a gang member or carjacker, when he was alive. Georgia talks him down and points out that "What kind of carjacker's first action in the afterlife would be to help a crying child?" He gets the point.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Georgia's superior in book 4 is disgusted when she discovers the string of art thefts going on in the school, but even more so when Georgia's coworkers are only concerned with covering it up so they don't lose their jobs or their chances at tenure. She calls them out for failing to do their duty to help the students like they're supposed to, and declares if they're so worried about money to get another job.
  • Retroactive Wish: In book 1, Georgia asks her reporter boyfriend Fletcher about Dr. Jocasta Kirkland, and if he'd ever covered a murder. A while later, Dr. Kirkland's dead, and Fletcher's covering the story. Georgia notes the bizarre coincidence, and says that "I wish I'd asked you if you'd ever interviewed an English instructor who'd won a multimillion-dollar sweepstakes."
  • The Reveal: Near the end of book 1, it comes out that Sid was originally Allen Reece, a college student at Joshua Tay University, who was helping Dr. Jocasta Kirkland put her data into a computer database and discovered a critical error, invalidating her entire study. Her research assistant, whose work was based off of hers, killed him to cover it up, since it would have ruined his career before it even started. Thirty years later, when Dr. Kirkland finished the work, realized the same error and was fully prepared to go public with it, her former assistant killed her for the same reason.
  • School Bullying Is Harmless: Subverted in book 3, where the consequences of bullying are shown to be very serious. To the point where a girl was Driven to Suicide by a group of four cyberbullies. One of them finally confessed to being responsible... and was murdered in return, setting off the plot of the book.
  • Secret Keeper: The entire Thackery family is one regarding Sid's existence, though Madison doesn't find out until the end of the first book.
    • Georgia, and later Fletcher Wildman, are ones for Charles Peyton's lifestyle (rather than maintain a permanent home, he lives in various offices on whatever campus he works at). Book 3 reveals that a few others also know, including Dr. Brownlow "Brownie" Mannix (also known as College Boy), whose family owns the carnival where Sid and Georgia first met.
  • Shed the Family Name: Nelson Paul McQuaid the Third fell out with his father and legally changed his name to Nelson Paul Mannix, taking his mother's surname. His son goes by the same surname.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Georgia and Deborah "don't have a Hallmark-card kind of relationship", though they don't dislike one another.
  • Silly Spook: Sid, who's generally cheerful and loves to make bad jokes.
  • Shout-Out: Sid, Georgia and her daughter Madison are fans of various series, which get namedropped throughout the book, including:
  • Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration: Sid is a Type 2. Any damage done to his bones is permanent, as evidenced when he broke a rib during Georgia's youth and it had to be glued back together.
  • Stock Animal Diet: Dogs and their love of bones, including Sid's, are mentioned a few times. Sid himself is terrified of dogs who feel they and Sid should have the traditional dog-bone relationship.
  • Struggling Single Mother: As of the start of the series, Georgia and her daughter Madison have moved around to about seven different towns since Madison was born, sometimes in the middle of the school year; Georgia's worked a series of adjunct positions at various colleges, and occasionally SAT Prep classes at high schools, to make a living.
  • Take a Third Option: In the sixth book, there's talk of a strike being held by the unionized professors at Bostock, the business college Georgia's currently working at. After hearing a lot of talk that amounts to the Provost trying to tempt the adjunct professors into taking over the courses held by the striking professors, the tenured professors make veiled threats expecting the adjunct professors to stand by their side if they want their careers to advance. Pissed off, Georgia makes a spur of the moment speech pointing out how the Provost's side and the union's side think very little of the adjunct staff (like how the head of the English department can't even remember Georgia's name). Georgia states the adjunct professors will continue to teach the courses they were hired for, but they will not cross picket lines and they will not be threatened into helping either side.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Deborah makes it clear in book 1 that she sees Sid as this, claiming that their parents have "kept this big house years longer than they intended just to make sure that they can keep that thing hidden". She also asks Georgia what'll happen if he's still sticking around years from now, having to live with Madison when she's an adult and thus complicating her life. She eventually and reluctantly gets past this view after he saves Georgia later (and then Madison learns about him and also accepts him), coming to accept him as part of the family.
  • They Fight Crime!: She's a college adjunct who teaches English. He's an ambulatory skeleton. They solve murder mysteries.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Dying was pretty traumatic, and as a result, Sid lost all his memories of being Allen Reece, though he remembers what it's like to be human.
  • The Undead: Sid is apparently one of these. The Thackery family figures he's either a really skinny zombie, or a ghost haunting his own skeleton (and based out of his skull). Georgia prefers the latter explanation.
  • Unusual Euphemism: At the urging of Georgia's parents, Sid (whose language was a bit "salty") now tends to replace curse words with bone-related terms. His most common replacement is "Coccyx", but "Sacrum", "Ossifying" and the more mild "Patella" also pop up quite a bit, and even "Phalanges" once. When she was younger, Georgia picked up the same habit, but reverted to normal swearing after moving out; she subconsciously resumes it when she returns to Pennycross. This gets her strange looks when she does it in front of people outside her family. And from Deborah, who asks when she's going to learn to curse like a grownup.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: Book 1 revolves around Sid's trying to find out who he was when he was alive, and after discovering he was murdered (they find a dent in his skull and a knife wound on one rib, right over where his heart would be), who killed him and why.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: When she was pregnant, Georgia didn't think she could have a career and raise a child by herself. But Sid was willing to believe in her, and his encouragement helped her self-confidence and allowed her to believe in herself again.


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