The days are getting longer and the weather is gorgeous here, so I’m enjoying this brief lull before mosquito season kicks by reading on the patio.
My pick for this week’s edition of “What I’m Reading Wednesday” is the 2014 Grand Prize and Mystery & Thriller Fiction winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award, D.M. Pulley’s The Dead Key.
The Dead Key is the story of two women involved with behind-the-scenes dealings of the First Bank of Cleveland, separated by 20 years. The store vacillates between 16-year old bank secretary Beatrice Baker in 1978 and civil engineer Iris Latch, who in 1998 is freed from her tedious desk job to survey the now defunct bank.
Iris is stunned to discover that the bank has been left abandoned as if everyone left for lunch and found the doors locked upon their return: paperwork on the desks, food and coffee in the vending machines, safe deposit box contents left intact and undistributed and a thick layer of dust covering everything. Something seems not quite right, and as Beatrice did 20 years earlier, quickly gets pulled into the mystery and finds herself in over her head.
These are two very different protagonists: naive, trusting Beatrice and jaded, alcohol drinking, sloppy Iris, but at several points in the book, just as I would when watching a horror novel, I found myself yelling “NO. BACK AWAY.” Curiosity has Iris delving deeper into the mystery much as the discovery of a safe deposit box key has Beatrice searching for an answer, and both actions lead them down a dangerous path.
Oh, and the dead key of the title? That is the bank’s master key which opens any safe deposit box in the bank. It’s gone missing, hence the still-full safe deposit boxes. Who has it? Is it found? You have to read to find out.
The two stories are woven together well and I found the 1978 storyline more interesting at the start; it took a bit longer before I found myself invested in Iris’ character. The bank itself is a character in its own right: dark, looming, and full of secrets. This page turner did not divulge its secrets and tie up loose ends until the end (and even then, I’m left with questions.)
The surprise behind this debut for a real-life structural engineer from Cleveland is that the book is inspired by her own discovery of a vault full of unclaimed safe deposit boxes in the course of surveying an abandoned building.
That somehow makes the plot that much more plausible, doesn’t it?
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