2014 Winner of the 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 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.
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (release date March 1, 2015)
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Three factors enticed me to read this novel. The first was the fact that it won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and the second was that my first career consisted of ten years working at a bank. The third and decisive factor was that the fictional story was based on fact. It’s always nice to learn a little when you read…
I love to try out debut novelists and this time I wasn’t disappointed. The story is told via dual narratives twenty years apart. Beatrice Davies, the heroine of the story – and Iris Latch the second protagonist whose character is needed to move Beatrice’s story along.
The protagonist of the 1978 story is sixteen-year-old Beatrice, a sympathetic character, who in an attempt to escape from an appalling past, has come to Cleveland to live with her Aunt Doris. Doris advises her to go to work for the First Bank of Cleveland and shows her how to dupe her employers into thinking she is old enough and smart enough to fill a secretarial position. Little does she know that Doris herself once worked for the bank and she has ties to it still… Once working at the bank, Beatrice befriends Max, an attractive girl not much older than herself who has been investigating some suspicious activity within the bank. The events in Beatrice’s story take place just weeks before the city of Cleveland defaulted on over thirty millions of dollars owing to financial institutions.
Next we skip ahead twenty years and meet Iris Latch. Iris is a rookie engineer who hates her office job and is unhappy with life in general. Twenty-three years old, Iris drinks too much, smokes too much, and lets her libido rule her brain more than she should. Iris is not all that likeable a character, but her story is interesting all the same. Given the opportunity to escape her ‘cubicle’ she is given a field assignment to map out a blueprint for an old bank which has recently been sold. The bank has been closed up for twenty years, but has a full-time security guard who lives on site. That is strange in itself, but even stranger is the fact that many things have not been disturbed in all of those twenty years. It is as though the bank is in a time warp. The cafeteria still has coffee in the machine. Personnel files were still in the filing cabinets. Desks still have contents and photos displayed. Very eerie!
Over time Iris comes to realize that the bank holds many questions begging to be asked. She finds a key in a desk drawer and realizes it may be one of the many keys that were claimed to have been lost. The vault has 1300 safety deposit boxes and they are probably still full! How can that be? Why would a real estate investment firm buy the building after all those years? What will happen to the contents of the bank?
The dead key of the title? When a safety deposit box is dormant for many years, the bank considers it ‘dead’. It then has to be cleaned out and readied for another customer. At that time the box will have to be drilled open and then replaced with a new door and mechanism. Years ago the banks used a ‘dead key’. This key opened all of the boxes. Dead keys are now illegal – and with good reason!
A story of political corruption, greed and manipulation, “The Dead Key” is a well written debut novel. How the stories of the two girls intersect is interesting and suspenseful. Although Iris was not a very likeable character, she was engaging. The plot was weak in places. I thought it inconceivable that a well-educated engineer would not know about the practice of renaming the 13th floor of buildings. It was highly unlikely that bank safety deposit boxes would be abandoned containing the important documents and valuables of hundreds of people… Though to be fair, there have been many cases of thefts from safety deposit boxes.
The mystery of the First Bank of Cleveland was enthralling. My main disappointment in the novel was that there was little satisfactory closure for the characters. So if you like an ending where everything is tied up neatly – you’ll likely be disappointed.
“The Dead Key” was an entertaining read for those readers who like suspense and are not too concerned with plausibility.
Monday, March 2nd: Life is Story
Wednesday, March 4th: Bell, Book & Candle
Thursday, March 5th: Bibliotica
Monday, March 9th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, March 10th: Rhodes Review
Monday, March 16th: Fictionophile
Wednesday, March 18th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, March 19th: Open Book Society
Monday, March 23rd: It’s a Mad Mad World
Wednesday, March 25th: 2 Kids and Tired Books
Monday, March 30th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, April 1st: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, April 6th: My Bookshelf
Monday, April 6th: Omnimystery News – author guest post
Monday, April 13th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, April 16th: A Bookworm’s World
Friday, April 17th: Brooke Blogs
Available at Chapters.Indigo.ca in trade paperback or audiobook format.
Available at Amazon.com in trade paperback or Kindle edtions.
Available at Amazon.ca in trade paperback, audiobook, or Kindle editions.