It is 1998. Irish Latch has an engineering job with a well known engineering firm in Cleveland, but she’s the employee with the least seniority and likely the biggest itch to get ahead. So when her boss offers her an unusual assignment (an abandoned building where she will have to work weekends, essentially for free), she jumps at it.
The building is the First Bank of Cleveland, which closed in a financial scandal 20 years earlier, a scandal wrapped up in the city of Cleveland defaulting on debt payments. One of the first things Iris discovers is that the bank is almost like a ghost town, with virtually everything left intact, down to family photographs on former employees’ desks.
She also discovers the vault for the safety deposit boxes, with many of the boxes still locked. And it is these boxes around which the story of D.M. Pulley’s The Dead Key turns.
Simultaneously, the story of Iris investigating and mapping the building is told with one from 20 years before, the story that contributed to the financial scandal that brought the bank down. This is the story of Beatrice Baker, a 16-year-old whose aunt helps her fake her birth certificate and personal papers to get a job at the First Bank of Cleveland. Twenty years before Iris, Beatrice finds herself on a similar path, gradually moving closer to the mystery that is the bank’s safety deposit boxes.
The chapters move back and froth between 1998 and 1978, telling two stories that eventually converge into one. The story of the safety deposit boxes is actually one story, containing equal parts mystery, suspense, danger, and death.
The novel is in part based on real events; the city of Cleveland did default on its debt when it was called due by a local major bank; U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich was mayor at the time and is mentioned in the novel. And Pulley, a civil engineer, did actual work in an abandoned bank building with safety deposit boxes in the vault.
While Beatrice and iris are the main characters, the major character in the novel is the bank itself, with its 15 floors of offices, sub-floors, and connections to the old steam tunnels beneath downtown. The building is hiding something, and both Iris and Beatrice are determined to discover what it is. The question is whether they will succeed before they’re killed.
Pulley tells a great story. And it’s no surprise that the book won the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – both in Mystery / Thriller category and the overall Grand Prize. (Note to readers: the book contains some strong language and sexual situations.)
Photograph of the old Ameritrust bank building in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, by Erik Drost via Flickr under Creative Commons license.
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