The Dead Key

My wife and I enjoy audiobooks on our long car trips — the hours and miles disappear — so as we prepared for our vacation excursion last month we decided to download the debut novel of someone we actually know.

D.M. Pulley’s 2014 thriller takes place in Cleveland during two different eras. In 1998, a young structural engineer named Iris is assigned to inspect a bank building that’s been abandoned for two decades. As Iris stumbles across secrets that were buried when the bank suddenly closed, we also get the story of Beatrice, an employee of the bank when it closed in 1977. Their timelines converge in a vault of safe deposit boxes, many of them left unopened when the bank shut its door. And as the title indicates, both characters come across a key that could literally unlock the mystery that lead to the bank’s closure.

I’ve been analyzing books with multiple timelines recently, and like the novel I most recently examined, Pulley’s work alternates chapters between the two timelines, and begins each chapter with a date. Each timeline also advances in a linear fashion. Keeping track of the timeliness is relatively easy, which is especially important for an audibook.

This was a great selection for our two-day drive. The story is suspenseful without being melodramatic or scary; Pulley keeps the reader wanting to know what happens next, and both Iris and Beatrice (who admittedly are a little too similar to each other for my tastes) are easy to root for. Cleveland natives will enjoy the local references, yet the book isn’t so provincial that it can’t be enjoyed by readers unfamiliar with the city. The audiobook reading by Emily Sutton-Smith is also engaging. This book made us keep our rest stops short so that we could continue listening, a sure sign you’ve made the right choice.