Today I am reviewing The Dead Key by D. M. Pulley for TLC Book Tours. As always, I am provided with a copy of the book in return for my honest review.
About the Book (from the publisher): It’s 1998, and for years the old First Bank of Cleveland has sat abandoned, perfectly preserved, its secrets only speculated on by the outside world.
Twenty years before, amid strange staff disappearances and allegations of fraud, panicked investors sold Cleveland’s largest bank in the middle of the night, locking out customers and employees, and thwarting a looming federal investigation. In the confusion that followed, the keys to the vault’s safe-deposit boxes were lost.
In the years since, Cleveland’s wealthy businessmen kept the truth buried in the abandoned high- rise. The ransacked offices and forgotten safe-deposit boxes remain locked in time, until young engineer Iris Latch stumbles upon them in a renovation survey. What begins as a welcome break from her cubicle becomes an obsession as Iris unravels the bank’s sordid past. With each haunting revelation, Iris follows the looming shadow of the past deeper into the vault – and soon realizes the key to the mystery comes at an astonishing price.
My review: This is Pulley’s first novel and it was the Grand Prize Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award for 2014. The premise is an interesting one, based on Pulley’s own experience as a structural engineer, which brings a wealth of detail to the descriptions of the abandoned bank.
The device used here is the telling of two stories: the story of the bank in 1978 and the story of the abandoned bank in 1998. Pulley alternates between the two, telling us the story of Beatrice, a young and incredibly naive employee of the bank in 1978 and Iris, the hard-drinking, loose cannon structural engineer working in 1998.
I found it a bit slow going, especially at first, but I eventually got caught up in the story. Pulley plots out this mystery in great detail, carefully revealing clues in past and present, just enough to keep the reader wanting to know more. She does this quite skillfully; the alternating stories, though sometimes a bit confusing, kept me engaged.
At first I had trouble with the rather stereotyped heroines; Beatrice, naive and defenseless, Iris, only 23 and hardened beyond her years. They do embark on a journey, however, and – especially in the case of Beatrice – find strength and power that they didn’t know they had.
I have to confess that I don’t understand why so much time was devoted to Iris’s excessive drinking and smoking. At the age of 23, she is an alcoholic and I certainly understand that people that age can be alcoholics. What I didn’t understand was how it furthered the story or illuminated her character. It was such a full-on depiction that Iris became more than a bit unbelievable. There was no room for any subtlety, which frankly, I would have welcomed. As it was, it was hard to feel any sympathy for her.
And a tiny quibble: I worked in offices in the seventies and early eighties – a lot of them. Even though we routinely hear the term Human Resources today, that wasn’t at all the case in 1978. It was just good old Personnel. Pulley’s use of that term in the 1978 section of the novel just doesn’t ring true.
All that being said, this is a good first novel. The premise is refreshing, the mystery compelling. It’s a very original idea that is executed well. I was engrossed in the story and what better praise can there be?
About the author: D. M. Pulley’s first novel, The Dead Key, was inspired by her work as a structural engineer in Cleveland, Ohio. During a survey of an abandoned building, she discovered a basement vault full of unclaimed safe-deposit boxes. The mystery behind the vault haunted her for years, until she put down her calculator and started writing. The Dead Key was the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Grand Prize winner. Pulley continues to work as a private consultant and forensic engineer, investigating building failures and designing renovations. She lives in northeast Ohio with her husband and two children, and she is currently at work on her second novel.
One of you will be the winner of a copy of The Dead Key. To enter, just leave a comment on this post and I’ll pick a winer on Saturday evening.
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