The Dead Key
by D.M. Pulley
2014 / 470 pages
read by Emily Sutton-Smith 13h 42m
rating B / crime-suspense
I really didn’t know what I was getting into with this one but I think someone in a reading group gave it a high rating so I checked it out, enjoyed the sample, was intrigued by the synopsis and put it on my Audible wish list. Then, Dear Reader, it went on sale. lol – What is a good girl to do?
It’s a debut novel and flawed in many ways, but still, I enjoyed it. The characters and suspense kept it going and the premise of the bank abandonment was interesting. The reader, Emily Sutton-Smith, is excellent – I need to see what else has narrated.
The story starts out with a Prologue which I had to go back to later and re-listen because about Chapter 8 I thought I’d missed something. Nope – that aspect is deliberately ambiguous although there are clues. This lack of specific information adds a certain suspense to the first half or so after which it definitely clears up.
Two stories alternate in the telling – the first story takes place in 1998 when Iris Latch, a young and new but very bright civil engineer, is given the job of re-creating the blueprints for a very old but long-abandoned bank building in downtown Cleveland.
The inner or history story takes place twenty years prior when a very young woman named Beatrice Baker is employed by the Cleveland bank. She in trouble with her family so she stays with her Aunt Doris. She finds out things it’s probably not safe for her to know and then her friend Max gets in trouble – actually, the entire bank is in serious trouble.
Meanwhile in 1998 Iris is putting things together – the bank was simply abandoned – there was no preparation for leaving – at least from the looks of it. And there is a 24-hour guard who has been there for a long, long time – he’s a character in both plot threads. Iris explores some rooms and finds a diary which seems to explain some things but what happened?
As Iris tries to piece together what happened to the bank the reader also reads about Beatrice trying to figure out what is happening in her life. Her friend Max is suspicious and Beatrice’s Aunt Doris, a prior employee of the bank has some secrets of her own.
Sexual harassment is an issue for both women – that got a bit old. Also, 1978 is an era I know well and I think there might be some anachronisms. The author kind of pounds the reader over the head with similarities between the two protagonists.
Overall the book was much better than I expected it to be. Pulley writes nicely and develops the suspense especially well – Sutton-Smith adds to this without ever overdoing it.
One odd thing about reading this book is that I was over 30 in 1979. I could be the character of Aunt Doris or someone “old,” like 50-somenting. lol – But in Pulley’s hands the 1978 sections sound like the really “olden days” – like the 1940s or something. (lol)
A bit of history: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Cleveland,_Ohio’s_Default
What Cleveland says about the book: http://www.cleveland.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2015/02/thrilling_new_cleveland_myster.html