The Dead Key (D.M. Pulley)

I’ve been struggling to figure out how to describe the quality of Pulley’s writing that I so admire. I think I have settled on ‘immersive.’ I open her books and just fall right in. I was reading one of the many suspenseful scenes while waiting for my dinner at a restaurant, and the waitress had the audacity to sneak up on me and deliver my food. I’m not sure how to describe the sound I made, but her scaring me made me scare her and things spilled a bit. After we both recovered and apologized, she wrote down the name of the book.

I think part of it has to be setting. It says in the back that she was (is?) a forensic engineer. She knows the ins and outs of buildings and she knows how to write about them. If you asked me, I am pretty sure I could draw the bank that is at the center of this excellent book.

But I don’t think it’s just setting. She creates these incredible characters. They are flawed, frustrating and just so very real. I’m sure I’ve met them. At more than a few points, I wanted to talk to them. As with her depictions of settings, her ability to convey the telling detail is outstanding.

Her plotting is superb – her ability to move back and forth in time is not a gimmick; it’s necessary. And she knows just when to move from one era to the other. It was generally around the time when I’d say to myself, “I’ll read just one more chapter. . .” (Yeah, good luck with that!)

And what locals in Ohio might appreciate about this one is that there is just enough historical detail in this one to make you say, “Wait, did this really happen?”

I also appreciate thrillers that seek to do more than thrill. Certainly, there is much in here about power and money and race. But there is also an nuanced undercurrent of ideas about gender.

And then, to find out it was her first novel?!?!!!

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake

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