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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Dead Key

The Dead Key

ISBN: 1477820876

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication Date: 3/1/2015

Format: Other

My Rating: 4 Stars 2014 Winner — Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — Grand Prize and Mystery & Thriller Fiction Winner 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.



"This superb novel tells the story of two heroines separated by 20 years: 1978’s Beatrice Baker and 1998’s Iris Latch, both of whom become perilously embroiled in the behind-the-scenes dirty dealings at the First Bank of Cleveland. Beatrice, a 16 year-old who passes herself off as 18, lands a secretarial job at the bank just months before the bank allows the city to default on its loans and abruptly closes down without explanation. Iris, a young engineer working her first job out of the office, finds herself assigned to map out a floor plan for the bank building which has been empty for two decades. She is shocked to see that most offices were never emptied, and that many bank records, including personnel files, are still in the cabinets. Just as Beatrice did 20 years before her, Iris quickly recognizes that there’s something not quite right at the bank and she soon learns that the building is not as empty as everyone thinks. Both women seek answers to the mysteries they uncover, while a gruesome discovery ups the stakes considerably. Readers, along with the main characters, will be sucked into the secrets the bank holds and will remain guessing until the end. Fast paced, faultlessly written, and engaging, this is a page turner with a very surprising and plausible twist. There are not enough superlatives to describe this engrossing novel." —Publishers Weekly


My Review

As a former bank manager and regional marketing manager overseeing 30 bank offices from 1979-1994, I am always captivated by these types of stories. Mysterious THE DEAD KEY, is a fascinating and complex debut suspense thriller, by D. M. Pulley involving the banking world, fraud, murder, affairs, conspiracy, and its mysterious lock boxes.

The book flashes back and forth from 1978 to 1998, where readers learn of the mysterious First Bank of Cleveland, an old abandoned building with a guard 24/7. It is the holder of dark hidden secrets, and a place for the homeless to sneak in through its tunnels.

Some odd twenty years prior, there were all sorts of disappearances, allegations of fraud, unhappy customers, and investors --- Cleveland’s largest bank was sold in the middle of the night. No customers, employees, or customers were allowed with a federal investigation. For some odd reason, the keys to the vault’s safe-deposit boxes were lost. Was someone stealing from the lock boxes or safety deposit boxes?

In 1998, we have a young bright and eager young engineer, Iris Latch who stumbles upon an astonishing clue which may be connected to the mystery, during a renovation review of the property. She becomes obsessed with the mystery of the keys, the boxes, and the lives of those connected to the bank’s past. However, the more she digs, she puts herself in harms way. Someone is lurking in the shadows.

Needless to say the historical part was much more interesting than the latter more present day. I liked the characters from the earlier days, as more intriguing. As author takes us back and forth between the two eras, we meet two different women, caught up in the same mystery as the pieces unravel.

1998-Iris Latch 23-years old, assigned to work off-site, as a civil engineer, to view the architecture of the abandoned bank building with another fellow employee. She of course is thrilled to leave her cubicle for some adventure. She finds it rather strange nothing has been touched for the twenty years when the bank was shut down. She finds a key to the safe deposit box #547 and slowly stumbles upon a web of deceit and lies and a crime of the past. She now is in danger, and someone has put the secrets to bed, and the most curious of all why the guard around the clock?

1978-Beatrice Banker is a sixteen year old who works at the bank in the secretarial pool. Her aunt helped her get the job as she was really not old enough. A fast-paced suspense which had me glued to my iPod to find out how these stories connect. There is a mystery surrounding her aunt. She does not trust anyone. Beatrice escaped a bad home life and stayed with her aunt. She also met Max, another secretary, who became involved as well as other women and the bank manager.

The narrator, Emily Sutton-Smith delivers an intense performance, combined with the dialogue and connection of two different stories, for an engaging debut!

We all know this is fiction as banks are all about dual control when it comes to the vault and compliance. However, this is not to say, banks, employees, officers, or investors, cannot get involved in politics, wire and bank fraud, as plenty of it happening in today’s world of conspiracy and greed.


About the Author

D.  M. Pulley

D.M. Pulley lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, her two children, and a dog named Hobo. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a Professional Engineer rehabbing historic structures and conducting forensic investigations of building failures. Pulley's structural survey of a vacant building in Cleveland inspired her debut novel, The Dead Key, the winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Since then, Pulley has sold over a half a million books worldwide, and her work has been translated into eight different languages.

Pulley's historical mysteries shine a light into the darker side of life in the Midwest during the twentieth century, when cities like Detroit and Cleveland struggled to survive. Her latest novel, No One’s Home (due out September 1, 2019), unravels the disturbing history of an old mansion haunted by family secrets, financial ruin, and murder. The abandoned buildings, haunted houses, and buried past of the Rust Belt continue to inspire her work. Read More






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