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Publisher's Summary

2014 Winner - Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - Mystery & Thriller

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 have 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.

©2015 D. M. Pulley (P)2014 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 11-08-15

Underestimating the Secretary Pool

I'd make a reasonable bet that D.M. Pulley is a woman. She/He(?) writes a terrific and atmospheric thriller, but it's the female characters who make this read different and, I think, quite special.

It's all about underestimated women. Back in 1978, there's Beatrice. We know she has a fearful past at only 16 and has had to fabricate some facts to get her job at a Cleveland bank. She cringes and whines and feels sorry for herself (she's a teenager after all!), but we quickly start forgiving her for that because she's also intuitively intelligent and courageous when she figures out that something at work is very, very wrong.

Jump ahead to the turn of the 21st century, and we have Iris. She's a young engineer in a job she finds tedious. Her assignment to measure and evaluate a soon-to-be-sold downtown building (the old bank, of course) seems just one step up from working in the cubicle. Yet she soon becomes intrigued by the fact that this long empty structure appears to have been quickly abandoned, with offices and desks and files still brimming with personal belongings and old records. For 20 years, the location has been preserved in place as though it were an archeological site - and that's odd for a lot of reasons. The old ghosts (including Beatrice) seduce her into the mystery.

There are men aplenty in both time periods - some who help the women and some who represent the worst of the "Mad Men" syndrome. There's money, politics, corruption in high places, and a satisfying outcome.

Some of it may be pretty far-fetched, and it goes on a tad bit too long. But Beatrice and Iris and a darn good narrator make for a worthwhile and intriguing listen.

41 of 44 people found this review helpful

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Way better that I expected

This book was rather interesting for me in a few different ways. I am a usual fantasy/scifi reader so a thriller/mystery isn't my niche and I don't have much to compare it to. Based on just reviews I was expecting this to be a two maybe three star read. There was a lot of people saying how unrealistic the book was, and maybe it was- but since I wasn't around in the 70s or an adult in the 90s I don't really know how the banking system was. I do believe the level of corruption was just right in this novel. It was so nice to have such a tangled ball of greed be pulled apart piece by piece revealing the sordid details of both the past and present. This maybe would have been five stars for me if I didn't absolutely hate Iris, one of the main characters. And I mean I hate her. I spent a lot of the book just rolling my eyes at her. She is an insecure, needy female who spends most of her time drunk and has a cigarette in her hand any chance she gets. The amount of smoking in this book made me crave fresh air. I do think they used her character traits very nicely in the story however especially in explaining some of the twists at the end. Now as for Beatrice, the second female lead, I loved her. The author was able to weave the details of a story told decades apart beautifully. The story was so intricate I didn't have the ending spelled out for me and also elegant enough as to flow seamlessly between decades without losing the reader. I highly recommend giving this a try.

66 of 73 people found this review helpful

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  • kathy
  • jasper, GA, United States
  • 03-13-15

Retired Banker says "Keep up with the keys!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

YES, especially to my banking friends of the 70's decade! Banking was different back then and even though this story is a bit far fetched, it is feasible in a crazy sort of way, well...not really, but what a ride. The author must have had some banker friends to help put this together. I recommend!

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Dead Key?

Many moments are scary with lots of twist, but finding out which one is the DEAD key! The book moved back and forth between the 70's and 90's and transitioned each time change well. You never felt lost.

Have you listened to any of Emily Sutton-Smith’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Not that I can recall, but she was the perfect choice for this book.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Scary. I did not want to stop listening. I really liked the fact that it was not so short. The author did a great job at defining the characters and describing the scenes and places.

84 of 96 people found this review helpful

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  • Dellyn
  • Elburn, IL United States
  • 03-16-15

Great listen!

I really felt for Beatrice and Iris. All the characters were lifelike and believable. I liked the way the author interwove each of the characters from 1978 to 1998. This was a great premise, story was well done with suspense and plenty of mystery and surprises along the way. This is one of the few novels I would enjoy listening to again.
Narrator was excellent.

56 of 64 people found this review helpful

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  • Paula
  • Overland Park, KS USA
  • 07-25-15

An Unexpected Gem!

This was a bargain book -- and it provided a full-price mystery that needed solving. It pulled me in and held my attention throughout.

That said, this book is just a teensy bit simplistic and far-fetched; offers (minimal) some gratuitous sex and cursing; and near the end, I thought it was swaying toward some kind of evangelistic message. Those are only slight shortcomings. . .

The characters are strong and easy to find empathetic; the plot sinister and complex; and the sorting out of it all very compelling.

If you like "soft" mysteries with minimal violence, sex and other vices, you may find this one to your liking.

52 of 60 people found this review helpful

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Great Story That Leaves You Wanting More

I listen to audio books during a long commute, and this is one of those stories I couldn't wait to get back to and found myself listening to it outside of the car. It is well crafted and keeps you guessing until the very end. The narrator was excellent and not the least bit annoying (as many are in audio books). I thoroughly enjoyed it and was not disappointed in the ending (other than the fact that it's over).

43 of 52 people found this review helpful

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Who can you trust?

Where does The Dead Key rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This was one of the top 5 of the audiobooks I have read thus far.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Beatrice. Although she was only 16 she fought through the fear and perserved.

Which character – as performed by Emily Sutton-Smith – was your favorite?


If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Disturbing the ghosts can be deadly

Any additional comments?

I really enjoyed this thriller, because of the different subject matter (financial institutions and structural engineering). The juxtaposition of the past and the present was also enjoyable. And finally women eventually kicking the bad guys butt.

27 of 33 people found this review helpful

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Interesting Plot But Needed Better Execution...

The narrator performed the story well but another two or three narrators would have helped the telling of the story . The description in the publisher's review is good. The story was interesting enough to hold my interest for the most part, but my attention would wane from time to time especially in the middle third of the story and then something would drag my attention back to the story... Finally, the story was able to hold my interest and attention until the end. However, it left me with questions...Did this one survive? and, did the other one get out of the basement alive?

This story was like a large, many-pieced puzzle with one or two missing pieces. There are a lot of moving parts being told in a back and forth kind of way from the flashbacks to the year 1978, and what's currently happening today, 1998. The fluidity of the story was muddled and, for me, the telling of story suffered. Two different narrators may have made the flow of the story better.

The juxtaposition of the past and present involved missing people, missing money, politics, corruption and murder wrapped up with an okay ending. So you must pay close attention to keep the player's sorted out because there were some "repetitive telling" that stunted the
the forward movement in the story.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Lia
  • Sutton, Australia
  • 12-10-15

Just OK For Me

It was almost good...
Interesting history of Cleveland's banking industry in the 1970"s and a 20 year old mystery of murder and investor fraud that connected a very young bank employee named Beatrice and an engineer, Iris, assessing the old bank that had been closed since 1978. Iris begins to find clues to the scandalous shut down of the First Bank Of Cleveland and takes it upon herself to try and find the whereabouts of two young female employees who disappeared around the same time. The missing piece seems to be what happened to the clients' safe deposit boxes, so finding the keys to them would help solve the crime. She discovers she is in over her head but continues to investigate on her own, even when she feels threatened by those around her and the building itself even. There are some interesting characters she meets along the way, some will help and some will turn out to be involved in the mystery in a darker way. Will Iris ever discover what became of young Beatrice?
It could have been interesting but it just... wasn't. In fact, it became so slow and repetitive in the middle that I wanted to fast forward to the ending to see if we ever understand Beatrice's story. The book goes back and forth between 1978 and 1998 to connect the stories and cause suspense, but I never liked Iris at all and wanted to jump to Beatrice the whole time. Iris was not smart (although she is painted to be) in so many ways. She has no friends and every stressful situation in her life is solved with a smoke and a drink (or many). She is hungover for most of the book. She sleeps with a coworker and that is bizarre for the rest of the book. She meets a detective (Maxine's brother) and they compare notes to solve the mystery- but Iris withholds information constantly. Ridiculous.
The ending didn't really provide any answers which left the whole story lacking.
So, although there was potential this book was not an enjoyable one for me.

Emily Sutton-Smith made the book worth listening too she was really good with the delivery of the story

29 of 37 people found this review helpful

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Few characters have annoyed me as much as Iris

Somehow, I made it through the book. I stopped paying attention right when the action peaked because by that point, I just couldn't care less about what happened either plot-wise or to Iris. I tried to empathize with her but after it was clear that her decisions were the result of character flaws and not a reasonable external factor, I was annoyed.

The story of Beatrice and Max redeemed the story (somewhat). It was far more interesting to learn of the sordid history of the bank but the flaws they had and disadvantages they faced were too artificial. For some reason, I couldn't connect with either one.

I have no idea how it ended and I have zero interest in even listening to the last chapter.

I will say though, it's a great book to put on if you want something to listen to when doing housework.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr
  • 10-25-16

Excellent book

This book is gripping and thrilling and definitely worth listening to. It kept me guessing right to the end and has left me with even more questions. Excellently written and performed. I loved it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful