The Dead Key, by D. M. Pulley

The author, trained as a structural and forensic engineer, designed her young structural engineer protagonist, Iris, in her likeness. Iris’ boss at Cleveland-based WRE, asked Iris to map the inside of a mothballed 15-story bank building, an edifice with a complex and dark history. Lonely, scared and vulnerable, Iris was too curious for her own good.

The Dead Key compared the trials of women in the workplace during the years 1978 and 1998. Although a valedictorian in 1998, Iris was the last hired at WRE, and expected she’d be the first fired. Her bosses threatened that she would lose her job if she didn’t complete an unpaid assignment. Eventually they left her alone in a spooky building – The First Bank of Cleveland had closed suddenly in December of 1978, shortly after Cleveland’s bankruptcy – where she sketched floor plans and explored connections with the bank’s former employees.

Beatrice, the second protagonist, lived in 1978. She applied for a job at The First Bank where executives screened potential secretaries not only for their typing skills, but their “virtue.” Beatrice quickly realized the hopelessness of her situation among the “money men.” They owned friends in high places and ran the bank as their own cash cow. Invulnerable, they’d kill anyone to secure their wealth – double meaning intended. Before Beatrice disappeared, she marked a trail, later followed by Iris.

The author skillfully “engineered” parallel story lines that traced Iris and Beatrice through the secret passages and vaults of the bank building, with special attention to the safe-deposit boxes. Each learned that she could trust no one. Danger stalked them and it seemed that a cemetery would serve as the backdrop to the last pages of The Dead Key.

The Dead Key won the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The author can boast of a crisp writing style and excellent technical knowledge. The story dragged during the early chapters as the depressed and hung-over Iris struggled through her miserable work days and empty life. Beatrice, a far more sympathetic character, built tension and set-up Iris for mysterious and dangerous exploits. D. M. Pulley left enough loose ends to fill a second volume. She has another book in the works.