The Dead Key. Finished 1-12-17, rating 4/5, pub. 2015
Unabridged audio read by Emily Sutton-Smith. 13 hours 47 minutes.
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 during 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 that the key to the mystery comes at an astonishing price.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to hear Pulley speak (wrote about it here) and the talk made me excited to read the book (the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Award winner). So much of what she writes about came from her experience as an engineer and being able to see the safe deposit boxes left as they were described in an old bank she was surveying. I think seeing her presentation definitely made the book better. If you’re interested this is a talk ( link )she gave at a local library.
The mystery follows the popular two storylines taking place in different time periods approach and works well enough, but I almost wish there’d been less of the 1998 story because the storyline and main character weren’t nearly as interesting as 1978. I loved young Beatrice getting caught up in scandal and intrigue at the bank during a time that women had less options than they do today. I was rooting for her to make her way out of the mess without getting caught but we never really knew until the last chapter with Iris in 1998.
Beatrice had all of the dignity that Iris lacked. Iris drank too much, smoked too much, was late for work too much and maybe let her curiosity get the better of her too much. I didn’t have problem with her but it was Beatrice’s story that kept me reading.
I liked it and am glad that I was able to hear her speak first because it put the story in context. I also loved that it took place in Cleveland (and that means I can count it for my Read Harder Challenge).