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Children's Fiction General

Charlie's Key

by (author) Rob Mills

Orca Book Publishers
Initial publish date
Oct 2011
General, Orphans & Foster Homes, Mysteries & Detective Stories
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2011
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2011
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


Charlie inherits little more than the brass key that his father pressed into his hand before he passed away

When Charlie Sykes wakes up in hospital in St. John's, he learns that he and his father have been in a car accident and that his father is dying. As far as Charlie knows, he has no family in Newfoundland. But then Uncle Nick shows up and is keen to meet his nephew—not because of who Charlie is, but rather because of what Charlie has: the key.

That key will unlock a treasure Uncle Nick began searching for more than thirty years earlier. And he would have found it all those years ago if he hadn't been arrested and sent away for murder. But Charlie isn't convinced he should give up the key. He leads Uncle Nick on a wild chase through old St. John's, across Signal Hill and out to the coast. There, high above the rugged Atlantic, Charlie finally comes face-to-face with Uncle Nick, the treasure, and a family history that will leave him with a new understanding of where he comes from and where he's going.

About the author

Rob Mills has been an award-winning reporter, newspaper editor and writer in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Ontario. Charlie's Key is his first published novel. He lives in Pererborough, Ontario with his wife and two daughters.

Rob Mills' profile page


  • Short-listed, Arthur Ellis Award nominee
  • Commended, TriState YA Review Group Book of Note
  • Commended, CCBC Best Books starred selection
  • Winner, John Spray Mystery Award
  • Commended, OLA Best Bets

Excerpt: Charlie's Key (by (author) Rob Mills)

I feel his hand twitch and twitch again. I put both my hands around his. And then, just a tiny bit, it opens. Then a bit more, and I feel something drop out of it, small, hard, hot in my palm. A key. I can tell without even looking.

Editorial Reviews

"While foggy cliffs and colorful villages effectively evoke the exotic Newfoundland setting, it's the mystery that moves the tale forward...A fast-paced, often riveting mystery with a plausible, thrilling climax."

Kirkus Reviews

"Charlie is a true teen hero. Faced with a situation that would be well beyond the abilities of the average 13-year-old, Charlie is a character that will catch the attention of most teenagers. A fast-moving and exciting plot leaves the reader wanting more at the end of each page. The descriptions of Newfoundland are haunting, creating a compelling visual backdrop for the story. The conclusion is both believable and satisfying."

Resource Links

"Mills' writing seamlessly brings together the pathos of Charlie's situation with the coarseness of Frankie's and Nick's circumstances...The cliff hangers, beyond those of its setting, repeatedly lead the reader to anticipate but instead surprise, just the way a great thriller should."

CanLit for Little Canadians blog

"This suspenseful mystery keeps the reader engaged...Charlie is a very likeable character, one to whom readers will easily relate. In addition to the major themes, censorship and literacy are issues which are also brought up and could instigate conversation in a classroom. Highly Recommended."

CM Magazine

"In Charlie, Rob Mills has created a nearly perfect, enigmatic character. Charlie is naïve yet worldly. He is compassionate and vulnerable, yet resilient and resourceful...The falling action is equally intriguing, and when the reader reaches the ending, he finds it to be shocking and emotional. Readers will want a sequel, needless to say, in order to discover the next chapter in Charlie's life. Mills combines contemporary topics like child abuse and a writing style that is full of local color and dialect to give us an excellent book."

Tri State YA Book Review Committee

Librarian Reviews

Charlie’s Key

When Charlie wakes up an orphan in a St. John’s hospital, he discovers the only thing his father has left him is a key. His uncle tries to claim the key, but Charlie refuses to give it up and leads him on a wild chase through old St. John’s, across Signal Hill and out to the coast. Charlie learns where he comes from and where he’s going.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. Spring, 2012.

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