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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.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
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    341
  • 1 Stars
    137

Performance

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  • 3 Stars
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    184
  • 1 Stars
    62

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 3 Stars
    1,255
  • 2 Stars
    390
  • 1 Stars
    159
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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Guy
  • Troutdale, OR, United States
  • 05-05-17

Not good.

First the good: The narrator was ok. The concept of the story was interesting (although not plausible), And the way the story bounced back and forth between the past and the present, and the two main characters was interesting. That's where the good ends.

Ultimately the book was a major disappointment. There are lots of errors and lots of things that are just too implausible to make the book believable. One example: The author apparently doesn't know the difference between being laid off and being fired. The words are used interchangeably several times (incorrectly), and late in the book the author makes a distinction between the two, then goes immediately back to using them wrong.

Another example: the entire premise of the book is that bank has been sitting there vacant for 20 years with millions of dollars that were stolen from the government inside. The bankers are so incompetent that they don't know how to open their own deposit boxes, don't know where the money is without a hand written ledger that a secretary was able to steal, and... they lost the keys. Yet they are smart enough to evade the feds for 20 years. Then there is the law enforcement officers. They can't get warrants for 20 years despite multiple disappearances, millions of dollars missing, reports of fraud from a mole, AND having an agent inside the bank the whole time. It's just too much.

Worse yet: The characters are too incompetent and stupid believable. Iris is an "engineer" that graduated top of her class (college not kindergarten), but somehow doesn't know what "drafting a set of plans" or "surveying a building" means. She's a morally bankrupt moron that no one who is intelligent enough to read a book will find relatable. She is supposed to be surveying a building, but instead spends her time digging through files that are not hers and snooping. Additionally, she is hungover nearly constantly. Beatrice is so mousy and generally pathetic that she too is nearly impossible to relate to. They both sneak around hiding and terrified for the majority of the book, for no apparent reason.

Then there are the other characters. Nearly every male character in the book is a sexist pig that sexually harasses women all day, every day. It was so prevalent that the entire book came off as a thinly veiled lecture on feminist studies.

And the bartender. He's just been running a nice bar up the street for twenty years. Super nice guy. Except he is really Sicilian mafia and shows up to start shooting people at the end.

Then there was the writing... the story seemed to meander around aimlessly. There was dialogue that was completely pointless. The characters were just over the top. There were times the characters jumped to conclusions about things for no apparent reason. I would bet that one could shave 4 hours off this book just by editing out 2760 references to Iris needing another cigarette. That was hyperbole. I didn't count.

Bottom line: This book reads like an early rough draft by an enterprising eighth grader.

297 of 308 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Am I the only one?

Everyone else seems to love this book. That's what kept me hanging in, despite my utter boredom and annoyance. The idea of the book has so much potential. The execution, though, leaves a LOT to be desired.
The writing is . . .sufficient - sort of amateurish, really, with repeating phrases like "hand on her shoulder" (this is how the women in the book are often startled), and "like a girl" as the ultimate insult. And that phrase was not used in the part of the book that takes place in the 70s, but in the modern section of the book. There are others, too. An editor should have picked up on these and spruced things up with some variations. There is also some very high schoolish wielding of adjectives that felt very awkward.
That stuff is fairly minor, though. The book is just sooooo slow and the characters have no substance or individuality. I was never invested in any of the characters and, so, couldn't have cared less what happened to anyone. The modern woman, who is one of the main characters, is such an embarrassing, clueless, spineless, girl who pants after her dream man with complete lack of self respect. It made me cringe.
The narration was okay, but she had limited ability to differentiate characters.
All-in-all, I wish I had invested all those hours somewhere else...

108 of 112 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

109 of 120 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Carole T.
  • 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.

60 of 66 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

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.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

56 of 64 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

90 of 104 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

59 of 69 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Well, it was on sale.

I don't understand authors lately. Why must they write these unlikeable lead characters? Do they have to be chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, alocholic idiots? I want to cheer for the main character, not wish they would go away. Don't these writers realize that they make me, the reader (or listener), intensely dislike the people they create? I want NEVER to encounter them again. The women in this story are awful. Also, the back and forth between timelines is very disorienting. Perhaps, it was more of a problem in the audio book version. If there had been two readers it would have been more obviously two different timelines. Regardless, I will put this author on my "Proceed With Caution" list; because in my opionion, D.M. Pulley has a whole lot of room for improvement.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • 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

35 of 43 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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