Toby Ball's novel The Vaults (St. Martin's Press, 2010) is a truly impressive debut work, one that will almost certainly find its way onto my "Best of 2010" list. Set in an alternate 1930s, in an American metropolis simply called "the City," Ball's story offers a sharp new take on the "bring down the system" thriller.
The jacket design was one of the things that first attracted me to this book (not surprisingly, I'm a sucker for a hallway lined with books, even if it is dark and vaguely creepy-looking). The image is of the eponymous Vaults, which as it turns out are the City's police archives. The keeper of those archives, one Arthur Puskis, is Ball's very unlikely protagonist. When he discovers a strange anomaly among the files, Puskis does something very uncharacteristic of himself: he starts to investigate. Naturally, tugging at that first little thread leads in directions Puskis never anticipated.
While Puskis methodically searches for the source of the oddity in his files, two other men (private detective Ethan Poole and newspaper reporter Francis Frings) find themselves getting drawn into the same swirling vortex, from entirely different directions and for completely separate reasons. Ball's narrative shifts perspective between the three men, slowly revealing to the reader the inevitable convergence as each begins to comprehend the breadth and depth of what they're facing.
Ball's created a deeply memorable dystopian world, filled with a cast of equally unforgettable characters (it would neither surprise nor disappoint me to see coming down the pike a prequel or two). I will look forward to his next work with much anticipation.