In a dystopian 1930s America, a chilling series of events leads three men down a path to uncover their city’s darkest secret.
At the height of the most corrupt administration in the City’s history, a mysterious duplicate file is discovered deep within the Vaults—a cavernous hall containing all of the municipal criminal justice records of the last seventy years. From here, the story follows: Arthur Puskis, the Vault’s sole, hermit-like archivist with an almost mystical faith in a system to which he has devoted his life; Frank Frings, a high-profile investigative journalist with a self-medicating reefer habit; and Ethan Poole, a socialist private eye with a penchant for blackmail.
All three men will undertake their own investigations into the dark past and uncertain future of the City—calling into question whether their most basic beliefs can be maintained in a climate of overwhelming corruption and conspiracy.
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Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Set in an unnamed U.S. big city in 1935, Ball’s impressive thriller debut opens with a vivid description of “the Vaults,” where archivist Arthur Puskis has worked for almost three decades. He’s the only person who understands the system of filing criminal cases in the vast underground storage facility in the subbasement of city hall. When Puskis, amid the drudgery of his lonely job, discovers two files with the same alphanumeric identifier but with different contents, the implications threaten the foundations of the massively corrupt municipal government headed by Mayor Red Henry. In particular, the find raises questions about why a number of convicted killers were never actually incarcerated. The archivist’s dogged legwork coincides with a series of bombings aimed at close allies of the mayor, and the plot steamrolls to a dramatic conclusion. Ball’s “City,” in which despair and graft are almost palpable, is an imaginative achievement on a par with Loren Estleman’s Gas City. ”
Mystery Scene Magazine
“I say this with great respect, as I revere the work of the legendary comic artist Will Eisner: The Vaults feels like a novel adaptation of one of Eisner’s classic Spirit comics.
“Astonishingly, Toby Ball is a first-time novelist. The Vaults succeeds on every level, in its language, plotting, and ability to enthrall readers.”
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Library Journal (Starred review)
Though clad in convincing period detail, Ball’s atmospheric debut thriller is a story for the ages. Deep in the underground Vaults, where “The City” keeps criminal records, devoted but isolated city archivist Arthur Puskis discovers something that shouldn’t exist: a duplicate copy of one man’s file, identical except for the picture. So begins a story of dark doings at high levels. Puskis and two other unlikely heroes, the migraine-riddled investigative reporter Frank Frings and sleazy but staunch private detective Ethan Poole, each try to topple the regime of prizefighter-turned-mayor Red Henry and his creepy cronies. Ball creates a vivid supporting cast of thuggish police, union organizers, jazz musicians, and bomb-heaving anarchists, wraps them in haunted nighttime settings, and sustains the suspense in short, well-paced chapters.
Verdict Cleverly couching contemporary themes—big business’s corrupt intervention in government, the threat to individual identity, and the distortion of information during technological “updates”—in spooky, lush historical trappings, this convincing novel will heighten readers’ senses, engage their minds, and satisfy their craving for exciting stories. —Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Ball’s first novel, set in 1935, grabs the reader with its opening image: the Vaults, a quiet, cavernous dim repository of files. Rows of shelves stretch into the gloom, each holding meticulously organized and cross-referenced files that date back 70 years into the City’s criminal past.
All of it presided over by one man, hermet-like, skeletal Arthur Puskis, whose idea of hell is a week off. Which is what he gets when he finds a duplicate file — a murderer’s file with notes in different-colored ink, and a different man’s picture in it, and no indication of any prison term — and brings the file to his chief’s attention. The chief assumes it’s a simple error and eyes Puskis’ agitation with concern, insisting he take a week off.
Naturally Puskis is unable to leave this mystery alone and finds the scary break in his routine leading him in unexpected directions.
Meanwhile, above the musty Vaults, the City teems with crime and corruption, led by the most corrupt administration in its history. Frank Frings, investigative journalist and columnist, is collecting dangerous inside information to try and bring the mayor down. And Ethan Poole, union organizer, socialist and private eye is more than willing to twist arms — or resort to blackmail — to get what he wants for the union. But then an odd, sad woman asks him to find her missing boy and Poole takes a turn into a different dark chapter of his City’s history.
All three men converge on the ugly truth separately and sometimes at cross-purposes. Ball captures the feel of a dystopian 30s as he follows his flawed and dogged characters through a minefield of dangerous secrets and betrayals.
An outstanding debut. – Lynn Harnett
“(The Vaults) is a rich story that has room for orphans, stone-cold killers with Achilles heels, loyal union strikers and unlikely farmers. It has the rich and the poor, the eccentric and salt of the earth. The Vaults also has the ability to turn philosophical and ask questions that go to the very heart of what each of the three protagonists holds most dear.
“The Vaults is one of those novels that are excellent examples to use when people argue about so-called genre fiction vs. literary fiction. This novel uses the tropes of genre fiction, but it’s literary in its construction and layers of what the characters are really saying and standing for in the course of the machinations. There is a progressive, reforming sensibility to the novel. This is even more true of the sequel.
“Fifteen years after the events in The Vaults, Scorch City follow-up takes an even darker turn. War veterans have returned, broken in spirit and body, while a more menacing threat worries some. A Red menace, that is.”
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