The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues) Summary
When Old Grace Cahill kicks the bucket, her will reveals the first in a series of secrets that will take her heirs on an adventure around the world. Key among them are Amy and Dan Cahill, a brother and sister team determined to discover Grace's secrets. With the help of their glitter eye shadow-wearing, nose-ring-rocking au pair, Nellie, the three of them travel to Philadelphia and Paris on the trail of that guy on the front of the $100 bill: Benjamin Franklin.
Along the way, they have to evade their conniving relatives. The Starling triplets interfere in Philadelphia, but are knocked out in an explosion meant for Amy and Dan. In Paris, former KGB agent Irina Spasky leads them into a trap; the Holts, a family of meatheads, almost get Amy and Dan buried alive; and their Uncle Alistair—alleged inventor of the microwave burrito—repeatedly betrays their trust. All along the way they're watched from a distance by the super creepy man in black who is secretly in cahoots with William McIntyre, Grace's attorney.
Eventually, Amy, Dan, and Nellie find themselves in the Maze of Bones, an intricate series of Catacombs under Paris. There, they discover the origins of the four branches of the Cahill clan and a clue that will lead them to yet another country in pursuit of secrets behind another historical figure: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Vienna, Austria. The hunt for clues is to be continued…
- Old Grace Cahill is on the verge of death, and she's about to change her will.
- As her attorney, William McIntyre, asks her if she's sure, Grace stares out the window and pets her cat, Saladin, like she's Dr. Claw.
- She and William have a cryptic talk about secrets and children and the fate of the world. Typical grandma talk.
- After Grace dies, William McIntyre tells a mysterious man in black to "Make sure they suspect nothing" (1.1).
- The man in black (not Johnny Cash) responds, "They'll never a clue" (1.25). Oh, really? We think they're about to get one. Or 39.
- Dan and Amy Cahill are riding with their great-aunt Beatrice to their grandmother Grace's funeral. Sad day.
- Aunt Beatrice is all keyed up because Amy keeps reading in the car. You know, because reading is so disruptive.
- Believing the kids to be too spoiled, Aunt Beatrice threatens to fire their au pair, Nellie, when they get back to Boston.
- As Beatrice continues driving terribly to the funeral, Amy and Dan bicker in the backseat.
- There's a huge crowd at the family cemetery—around 400 people or so. Cahills from all over the world. (To meet the important ones, head over to our "Characters" tab. We'll solemnly wait here in our mourning attire.)
- Their cousins, the Holts, bully Dan by picking him up and dropping him on his head. We have to wonder if these meatheads were dropped on their heads as babies.
- After the funeral, William McIntyre informs the mourners that a select few have been invited to the will reading. Those lucky heirs have golden invitations in their funeral programs. It's like William McIntyre is Willy Wonka, giving out golden tickets, of death.
- Amy and Dan get a golden ticket, of course, and go to the will reading.
- A video of Grace plays in which she tells everyone that they have a choice: a million dollars or a clue to a game that will take them around the world and might "make [them] the most powerful, influential human beings on the planet" (2.107). They have five minutes to make their decision. Tick tick tick.
- Dan is thinking about all the loot he can get with a million bucks when Aunt Beatrice tells them that she'll put their two million in a trust fund. And spend any interest it makes. As if. That doesn't sit well with Amy.
- Many Cahills take their million-dollar inheritance and skedaddle, but a few accept the 39 clues challenge: the Holts, the Starlings, the Kabras, Jonah Wizard and his father, Irina Spasky, and Alistair Oh.
- Amy decides to take the challenge, and burns their million-dollar check voucher. Now there's no going back.
- Now that Amy and Dan have teamed up to find the 39 clues, they open their first clue: "RESOLUTION: The fine print to guess, Seek out Richard S_____" (4.7). It's got to be Richard Simmons! Or… not.
- A few teams rush out the door as if they know where the clue leads (or they're eager to start Sweatin' to the Oldies), but Amy and Dan are stumped.
- Amy wonders if it has anything to do with the four branches of the Cahill family: the Ekaterina, the Janus, the Tomas, and the Lucian. She's not sure which she and Dan belong to.
- Mr. McIntyre tells them that he cannot help them, but Grace did leave them a warning: "Beware the Madrigals" (4.57).
- To Dan, "the name Madrigals just sounded evil" (4.58). He's right. There's nothing scarier than a high-school choir in period clothing.
- Suddenly, Amy has a revelation. She drags Dan off to the library.
- In the library, they run into their uncle Alistair Oh, who wants to form an alliance with them.
- They agree to it, because they'll need an adult chaperone if they plan to travel around the world. Dan says he hadn't been allowed to go on a field trip because he'd "put Mentos in his Spanish teacher's Diet Coke" (4.85). That sounds better than most field trips, if you ask us.
- Amy can't find what she's looking for, and she wonders if there might be a secret library.
- Faster than you can say "secret library," Dan pushes some buttons hidden on the Cahill family crest, and a bookcase swings away, revealing a secret staircase leading downward.
- In the hidden basement, Amy, Dan, and Alistair find a giant secret library.
- Before they find the book that Amy is looking for, she finds something else on the S shelf: Saladin the cat.
- She also finds Grace's jewelry box under the cat. We're not sure why the jewelry box is in the S section. Shelved under "shiny swag"?
- The jewelry box holds diamond bracelets, earrings, and Grace's jade dragon necklace, which is Amy's favorite.
- Somehow she takes her mind off the shiny swag and gets back on track. There's a clue to solve, after all. Amy realizes that Richard Saunders must be shelved in the F section.
- No, this isn't because people used to confuse F's and S's all the time. It's because Richard Saunders was an alias for Benjamin Franklin when he wrote Poor Richard's Almanack.
- Infide... er, inside Grace's copy of the Almanack is a clue, handwritten by Dan and Amy's mother: "Follow Franklin, first clue, Maze of Bones" (5.60).
- They haven't had time even to think about the clue before they smell smoke. The mansion is on fire. We hope Grace's secret library has a fire evacuation plan.
- In the ensuing kerfuffle, they get separated from uncle Alistair, but they at least get the cat out through another secret passage.
- Outside in the fresh air, the kids see Mr. McIntyre sprawled out on the pavement. Uncle Alistair walks right over his unconscious body.
- Dan notices that a creepy man in black (not Will Smith) is watching them through binoculars, so he and Amy hide.
- When the man in black leaves, Amy rushes over to Mr. McIntyre and dials 911 on his cell phone.
- Waiting for the paramedics, they realize that Alistair stole the Almanack.
- A policewoman takes Amy and Dan back home, where they tell Nellie, their au pair, that they have to go on a family scavenger hunt.
- They entice Nellie into driving them by mentioning her three favorite things: "guys, food, and money" (6.42).
- To make money for the trip, Amy plans on selling all of Grace's jewelry except for the jade dragon necklace.
- When Dan packs for the trip, he brings along the only photo of his parents that he has.
- Then he tells Amy that he's planning on selling his entire collection of baseball cards and collectibles to boost their travel fund.
- Once they're all packed, Amy says they need to buy three train tickets. They're going to Philadelphia, land of cream cheese, Philadelphia freedom, and maybe the second of 39 clues. But mostly cream cheese.
- The point of view shifts in this short chapter to Irina Spasky, the stereotypically Russian relative who is creeping around Boston.
- She and the Kabra siblings, Natalie and Ian, strike a deal to set a trap for Amy and Dan, but we don't know what it is yet. We just hope it doesn't involve the Kabras' dart gun or Irina Spasky's poison-tipped fingernails.
- Actually, we do hope it involves those poison-tipped fingernails. Those are awesome. Where can we get some?
- After our Boston detour, it's back to Amy and Dan, who are waiting for Nellie outside a rental car place.
- Nellie emerges with a big brown envelope addressed to A & D Cahill from Mr. McIntyre.
- They open it up, hoping it's not a bomb, and find a black light and a note telling them to meet him at Independence Hall, "but only if [they] find the information" (8.18).
- Even though they're not sure what information Mr. McIntyre is talking about, they forge ahead, driving to Philly.
- Nellie drops them off at the Library Company of Philadelphia, where they enlist a small army of librarians to help them with their research.
- Amy scans a few documents with the black light, including Franklin's first cartoon before the librarians tell her that there are more documents at the Franklin Institute.
- They get Nellie to drive them down there. Inside, they have to evade the man in black (not Tommy Lee Jones) while they search the museum, finding an armonica invented by Franklin and a request for Iron Solute. Eventually they find a hidden message on one of Ben Franklin's documents.
- As they're reading the message, the Starling family sneaks up behind them and takes a picture of the cryptic clue. Those sneaky rats.
- The Starlings try to make a quick getaway, but Dan tells them that it might not be safe: the man in black has been following them.
- Sure enough, when the Starlings try to leave through the front door, there's a huge explosion.
- Dan and Amy escape, but the Starlings are nowhere to be found.
- Fleeing the scene of the explosion, the kids run into William McIntyre who fills them in on a few things:
(1) The Starlings will survive.
(2) Aunt Beatrice might hire a detective to track them down.
(3) But he'll take the cat, Saladin, so that the poor thing isn't in danger of blowing up anymore. The kids still might blow up, but at least the cat is safe.
- As they head back to meet Nellie at the car, Amy tells Dan that they're off to Paris. Ben Franklin's secret message was dated 1785, the year he left Paris, so Amy assumes he must have left something behind. Like a clue.
- Nellie isn't up for more travels at first, but when she hears "Paris," she's ready and rarin' to go.
- Amy and Dan decide not to tell her that they might not be able to afford to come back.
- This short chapter shifts point of view to Alistair Oh, who has made it to France with the Almanack.
- At the airport, he's ambushed by Ian and Natalie Kabra.
- He manages to escape Natalie and her creepy china doll, which is a weapon of some sort, only to be met by a purple van outside.
- The van door rolls open, Alistair gets punched in the face (we don't like him, but still: ouch) and Alistair, and chapter 10, fade to black.
- Amy, Dan, and Nellie arrive in France at the same time as their relative Jonah Wizard.
- He talks them into joining him and his dad in their limo on the ride into Paris.
- They have to sit through Jonah droning on and on about all his merchandising: CDs, clothes, pop-up books. Next up: "souvenir chamber pots" (11.51). Eesh.
- Declining Jonah's offer of an alliance, they have the driver drop them off when they see Irina Spasky in the streets of Paris with the Almanack.
- They leave Nellie in front of the Maison des Gardons (if you don't speak French, you'll find out what this means in a few chapters, and it's not pleasant) and dash off in hot pursuit of Irina.
- As he chases Irina Spasky, Dan keeps getting distracted by food: ravioli, ice cream, chocolate, and bread. City of Love? More like City of Yummy Treats.
- Even though they think Irina might be leading them into a trap, they follow her all the way to the Institute for International Diplomacy, which is decorated with the Lucian Crest. They're on the right track.
- Inside, they follow Irina Spasky through the twisty hallways. Dan gets distracted again. Not by food this time, but by weapons. He snags a strange silver orb and a Franklin battery because they're just too neat to pass up.
- They find a command room where Irina Spasky had been examining the Almanack. After Irina leaves, Amy and Dan drop in and find a map leading them to 23 Rue de Jardins.
- There's also a photo in the room, a photo showing that the man in black (not Josh Brolin) is in Paris.
- A guard catches them, sets off an alarm, and a wild chase ensues.
- Dan manages to slide like a baseball player under a sliding gate and Indy Hat Rolls Amy through at the last minute.
- Then he busts a window with a bust of Napoleon, and they escape.
- Amy wants to head back to Nellie, but Dan insists they need to get to 23 Rue de Jardins before Irina.
- It's time for another point of view shift, this time to the Holt family, who are bickering over ice cream in that unmarked purple van we've seen before.
- Here's all you need to know: due to a massive inferiority complex, Eisenhower Holt, the father, is desperate to find all 39 clues. The only things standing in his way are his fourteen- and eleven-year-old relatives, Amy and Dan.
- Our money's on the kids since Eisenhower doesn't seem to have two brain cells to rub together.
- We're back on track with Amy and Dan as they stop at a bakery for a quick bite to eat.
- After their snack, they trek to 23 Rue de Jardins. There's no building there: just a graveyard.
- Dan finds a surprise on one of the tombstones: his and Amy's names.
- That's right, the 39 Clues is like The Sixth Sense. Amy and Dan have been dead this whole time! Dun. Dun. Dunnnnn.
- Okay, not really. It turns out this is one giant trap. The ground gives out below them, sending the kids to an early grave, metaphorically speaking of course.
- It wasn't Irina that led them into a trap, as Dan thought, it was the Holts.
- But, being boneheads, the Holts give away a clue while they're taunting Amy and Dan: "BF: Maze of Bones, coordinates in the box" (14.69).
- A cement truck rolls up and is about to fill in the hole, with Amy and Dan still in it, when Amy lies and tells the Holts that she can figure out the book.
- Once they help them out of the hole, the Holts beat up the thugs that showed up with the cement truck.
- Trying to help, Dan throws the silver sphere into the fracas. It turns out to be a concussive grenade, which knocks everyone out. Except the two thugs Dan was targeting in the first place.
- Amy and Dan run, scale a fence, and end up in a dead end.
- The thugs start to climb the fence, too, but Amy gets the Franklin battery from Dan and turns the fence electric. It's like when you rub your feet on the carpet and touch a metal doorknob. Times a hundred.
- As they escape, Amy notices that the man in black is watching them from afar.
- When Amy and Dan get back to the hotel, Nellie is so not happy with them, because she's been stuck at the roach motel (gardon = cockroach). But then they tell her that they were almost killed, and Nellie steps up to their defense, "Nobody messes with my babysitees" (15.18). Oh yeah, it's on like Jean Valjean.
- Amy realizes that they have to explore the Catacombs, the intricate series of tunnels under Paris.
- Right before they get there, they run into Uncle Alistair, who was last seen stealing the Almanack and leaving the kids in a burning building. He's a real peach, that one.
- Nellie whacks him in the head with her backpack.
- Amy believes Alistair's excuses. Dan doesn't. Alistair offers to buy them lunch, so they join him.
- At lunch, Alistair shows the kids a print of a painting of Ben Franklin. In it, a clue is hidden: "Paris, 1785" (18.96).
- Amy acts like this is a big deal, even though they already knew this information.
- After lunch, Alistair offers to tell them information about their parents. It seems there are secrets surrounding them and their deaths.
- But before he can spill the beans, the Kabra siblings show up. To get Amy and Dan to trust him, Alistair offers to stay behind and delay them.
- Amy, Dan, and Nellie descend into the Catacombs.
- With the aid of Nellie's keychain flashlight, the trio finds a plaque dated 1785. A-ha. Exactly what they're looking for.
- Near the plaque is a 4x4 square of skulls. Most of them, except for three, have Roman numerals chiseled into the foreheads. We hope this happened after death.
- Amy remembers the clue about "Coordinates in a box" (16.42), and realizes this must be what they're talking about. It's not just any box, it's a magic square.
- If you look at the picture long enough, you can solve the puzzle yourself before Dan does so a few pages later.
- To throw him a bone, we should say that he probably would have solved it quicker were it not for the untimely arrival of the Kabra siblings.
- Natalie and Ian have poison darts. Amy, Dan, and Nellie have a backpack and a flashlight. This is not a fair fight.
- Thankfully, Uncle Alistair shows up and knocks Natalie to the ground. If there's anything Uncle Alistair is good for, it's pushing over eleven-year-old girls.
- They escape and end up in the subway (or as the French call it, the Metro) tunnels.
- These tunnels are active, with trains speeding by every four minutes. The kids have to time it just right to race across the tracks and onto the subway platform.
- When Dan runs across the tracks, he drops his backpack. He's unable to retrieve it before the train comes, sweeping the backpack—and the only photo he has of his parents—away into the darkness of the tunnels.
- Dan tells Amy what the missing skull numbers should be, and she suspects that it might have something to do with Paris's arrondissement system. It's back to the library.
- As they do more Ben Franklin research, they come across a "rare grocery list" (16.158) of ol' Ben's. One of the items, Iron Solute, stands out to Amy, but she doesn't know what it is. (You might remember this from Chapter 8).
- Nellie's taken Chemistry, and she tells them it's "for metalworking and printing and a bunch of other stuff" (16.166). Whoa, Nellie. Way to pay attention in class.
- Dan reminds them that they're supposed to be tracing coordinates, so Amy finds a spot on an ancient map of Paris that matches the coordinates: St-Pierre de Montmarte. A church.
- Off they go again.
- In the church graveyard, they find a strange tombstone: no name, no date, and the Lucian crest.
- At the base of a tombstone, a small arrow points down into the earth, which can only mean one thing. It's time for everyone's favorite cemetery pastime: grave-digging.
- Nellie and the kids dig into the grave and find another entrance to the vast Catacombs of Paris.
- Deep inside, they find a vase and a mural depicting the four original members of the four branches of the Cahill family.
- They open the vase and find a vial of liquid wrapped in paper. Amy takes the paper, and they look at the vial. It has a strange message on it. It's an anagram, which Amy unscrambles: "As thou charge this, so I charge thee. Use thy skills the truth to free" (17.86).
- Before they even have time to think about it, Jonah Wizard jumps in to take the clue.
- Amy threatens to smash the vial if Jonah comes any closer, so he backs off.
- With Dan and Nellie in tow, they escape the Catacombs... only to run into Uncle Alistair and Irina Spasky.
- Before Irina can lunge at them with her poison-tipped fingernails, the Holts arrive and start throwing crates of ice cream at them.
- Dan and Amy escape into the nearby church and climb to the top of it, where a lightning rod stands.
- To Amy, the vial holds an inert substance that needs to be charged. Hanging on to a lightning rod should do that in no time.
- Lightning strikes, and the vial starts glowing green.
- When Amy climbs back down, she finds that Ian and Natalie Kabra have tied up Dan and poisoned him.
- Ian tells Amy he'll give her the antidote in exchange for that glowing vial she has.
- Amy agrees to the trade. Ian and Natalie take the vial and fly away on a giant kite. It turns out it was all a bluff: Dan wasn't poisoned after all.
- The good news is that the vial wasn't the big clue; the paper it was wrapped in is the clue.
- It's a piece of sheet music for an armonica, an instrument invented by Franklin.
- Amy also realizes that in the first clue they got, the word RESOLUTION is an anagram for IRON SOLUTE. She thinks it's "an ingredient, or a component, or something like that" (19.36). We're still stumped. Maybe it was that vial they lost to the Kabras?
- While they're pondering this information, Mr. McIntyre shows up. He returns Saladin the cat and offers to sell Grace's jade dragon necklace, which Amy is wearing.
- Amy declines that offer, and Mr. McIntyre leaves. She remembers his advice from earlier: "Trust no one […] And that includes him!" (19.72-19.73).
- Back to the clue, Amy shows them three initials at the bottom of the paper: W.A.M.
- No, not Wham! They're not going to meet George Michael, sadly. They're going to Vienna, Austria, home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
- The book closes with one short chapter showing William McIntyre and the man in black (no, not... okay, we're out of running gags for this one) conspiring once again.
- It seems they already know about Vienna and are one step ahead. Dun dun dun…