Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Duplicate Keys” as Want to Read:
Duplicate Keys
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Duplicate Keys

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,951 ratings  ·  206 reviews
Alice Ellis is a Midwestern refugee living in Manhattan. Still recovering from a painful divorce, she depends on the companionship and camaraderie of tightly knit circle of friends. At the center of this circle is a rock band struggling to navigate New York’s erratic music scene, and an apartment/practice space with approximately fifty key-holders. One sunny day, Alice ent ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 9th 2004 by Anchor (first published February 12th 1984)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Duplicate Keys, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.23  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,951 ratings  ·  206 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Duplicate Keys
mark monday
literary author Jane Smiley does a murder mystery, which is cause enough for interest. the central character's lack of understanding is fascinating: surprisingly deluded about the events unfolding around her and completely misunderstanding the inner lives of her lifelong friends. this is much more of a slow-burning character study and a depiction of an emotionally intricate set of relationships than a suspense-filled mystery. however, the sequence in which the heroine finally finds herself to be ...more
Smiley's style is so readable that I enjoyed the book in spite of the fact that I spent the first half arguing with it. As I turned the pages (and I did keep turning the pages), I kept saying to myself, this is not how real people act. The book begins with a murder, and all the friends spend the days following talking about how "amazing" it is and arguing about whether one of the victims was destined to die young anyway. They ate a lot, too. I lived through a freind's murder, and we were all in ...more
Dilia Narduzzi
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
This is probably a 3.5 but rounded down to 3. I don't know why I liked this book: there is something intangible that I found interesting about it. Probably more as a study of a certain kind of novel. I read it because I'm reading Smiley's book about ways of looking at the novel and she writes there that she wanted to try her hand at writing in the mystery genre. I think this is her one and only mystery novel. It is a literary mystery, which I liked. I liked that there was a murder to figure out, ...more
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The spacious Manhattan apartment was like a central meeting place for the group of friends who had all moved to the city around the same time. Within their group were members of a band called Deep Six. The three actual residents of the apartment were Denny Minehart, Craig Shellady, and Susan Gabriel. Others who came and went freely were Noah and Rya Mash and Ray Reschley.

On a morning in May, another friend, Alice Ellis, had stopped by to water the plants, as Susan had gone out of town to the Adi
Mar 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
The protagonist reminds me very much of the protagonist of A Thousand Acres; unable to discern the motives of others, unable to see anything but the best in people, and willing to twist herself into origami shapes in order to create a truth that allows everyone else to be a good person. I'm not sure if I dislike her because she's unlikeable or if it's because she reminds me of parts of myself I dislike.

It's interesting to see the template of Smiley's character development overlain on a murder my
Lynn Pribus
Apr 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Smiley is such a polished writer, yet this book is dated in tone. It involves two murders, but is not at all a whodunit. Detailed and lengthy analyses of various characters, their personalities, their behaviors, their relationships. All well developed. Actually overly well developed. I found myself skimming some of the lengthier segments as the novel progressed.
Felicia Roff Tunnah
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book made me nostalgic for 80s NY and also for the life of a 30 yr old. Really well crafted.
Mar 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I feel really fond of this book and the experience of reading it. Probably because I bought it in a bookstore in Taipei over 10 years ago when I had run out of books to read and I felt really fondly toward it then too. It's a little wordy in parts but it's pretty good.
Sep 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

I bought this book not knowing anything about the author. The cover looked pretty so i took it. I've let it sit a year on my shelf before actually deciding to read it.
This book is so annoying i gave myself one day to read it and then give it away (more like forcing it on someone).

I have nothing to say about the writing style. It's good for the most part (not my favourite style but it's really not bad). But everything else... Oh my god. I don't know where to start.

First of all : the chara
Jan 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
I just finished Jane Smiley's Duplicate Keys, a mysterious story of murder, betrayal, and life in 1980 New York City. The story follows a group of friends, a few of them in a band, from the Midwest who come to NYC seeking their piece of the rock n' roll pie. The group has moderate success and receives lukewarm reviews, but the members trudge on obsessing over their next great song, lyric, review, connection. Two of the band members are found in their apartment dead by Alice, a friend outside the ...more
May 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
After remembering reading and enjoying Smiley's "A Thousand Acres" but then being disappointed by her more recent, "Some Luck", I thought I would give one of her earlier novels (and one of a different genre) a try. I was ready for a good suspense novel over the holiday weekend and although this one was billed as such, it wasn't until the last 40 pages of the book that there was a brief scene of suspense before it reverted to more of a psychological drama delving into the lives of a group of sing ...more
Jan 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sally Ewan
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This was one of my take-along books for the trip to Destin. I couldn't exactly spend all my time reading Stratford Caldecott and T4G books, could I?!? So I picked up a few small paperbacks from the library. I have read other books by this author, and I thought this might provide a pleasant diversion. Instead, it was a tedious muddle of psychological drama and thriller. Two men are killed and a longtime friend is trying to make sense of it all. The main character was insipid and self-questioning, ...more
Jake Thiele
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great novel, one that had me at the edge of my seat the whole way through. Every chapter ended in a cliff-hanger, and sometimes for the most benign things. Jane Smiley is so in tune with human thought and behavior that I truly felt I was Alice in the book--this is something I don't think I've ever experienced, at least never to this extent.

As a whole, I felt that the novel could have continued indefinitely and I would have been just as excited to read it and just as excited while read
Mary Alice
OK mystery of sorts. One very suspenseful chapter of a break-in while the protagonist is in bed. At that point, I felt the author pushing all my buttons.
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A really effective story that asks the question how much can we ever really know about another person? No matter how long we have known them or how well or how much we have loved them.
Aug 05, 2017 rated it liked it
There’s no compelling reason to read this murder mystery novel published in 1984 unless you’re hell-bent on reading Smiley’s entre oeuvre like I am, or are nostalgic for the early 1980s. There are references to stolen tape decks, pantyhose, and fashionable women eating large deli sandwiches that aren’t there to be topical, but are just part of the landscape. I was reminded of the 1978 Goldie Hawn movie “Foul Play,” which although set in San Francisco, also features a librarian caught up in event ...more
Apr 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Duplicate Keys is a "mystery" novel by Jane Smiley. (No, I didn't know Smiley had ever written a mystery either!) It's a tale of a group of thirty-something friends in New York city. Two of them are murdered at the beginning of the novel, and most of the book is devoted to finding the killer. The plot has interesting twists and the characters are well drawn. The trouble is that I hated all of the characters, especially the main one, Alice. She is portrayed as a young woman who is timid, unorigin ...more
Aug 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Alice Ellis has been divorced for two years, but still wallows in the pain of it. She is a librarian, living in NYC with friends from home (MI) who include rock musicians. This tight knit group is devastated by the murder of two friends. Susan and Denny are a couple and Denny's close friend Craig often stays at their apartment. Over the years, many copies of the keys to the apartment have been shared, including friends of friends. Alice finds the Denny and Craig when she goes to water the plants ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Jane Smiley, literary chameleon, does a creditable job with this mystery set in NYC in 1980. It's more of a psychological study than a page turner. Of course, the characters are well-developed, and there are many well-written passages. I'm ambivalent about the protagonist (I think I'm supposed to be) who tries to build a fantasy world around herself when the real one (other than the murders, attempted and otherwise!) seems quite cozy, with good job, good lover, great rent-controlled apartment... ...more
Amanda Monte
Dec 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I’ve been reading this book for about 4 days and after getting about 70-75% through, I just can’t finish it. Normally I can read a book in 2 days max, but this one was so slow-paced that I just couldn’t do it. It was boring, honestly. It’s supposed to be a murder mystery, a thriller, and the focus of the book was more on what Alice thinks of her friend Susan. Not only was it boring, it was confusing. The dialogue didn’t make sense at some times, the characters’ motivations didn’t make any sense, ...more
Kristin Strong
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it
My mother read this and passed it on. It's as well written as all of Jane Smiley's other work, but...

Two men are found murdered in their apartment by a friend. Whodunit? You'll find out, but this is less of a murder mystery than a kind of character study of the protagonist (and a monument to her cluelessness).

The best thing about this is that it's kind of a pen portrait of a long-gone New York City, where large apartments still featured affordable rents and Times Square was still seedy and piles
Montserrat Archbald
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This book presents itself as a mystery or thriller, and it does have some of the trappings of those genres, but it is mostly about friendship: how much you can love someone, and how little you can understand them.

"[C}ouldn't this last for years, in a way that marriage could never last, without effort, without swings in desire, or mistakes in translation, or the balancing of needs that marriages always demanded? People stayed home for passion and went out for companionship, when actually the reve
May 17, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. A book from my shelf which I’ve owned for years and never got around to reading. The author, Pulitzer Prize winner for A Thousand Acres, definitely knows how to write. A good story about a group of midwestern friends who live in New York City. One lovely sunny day, Alice, a librarian discovers two of her friends brutally murdered in an apartment for which fifty plus keys had been given to other friends, acquaintances and even strangers. Very Alfred Hitchcock like, in it’s suspense.
Jenny T.
May 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
Set in 1980, Alice Ellis discovers 2 of her close friends murdered in their NYC apartment. As part of a group who have relocated from Minnesota several years before, this event reveals the present strain of those relationships as suspicion and secrets are revealed among friends. The author has a contemplative style of writing which built suspense in the plot, but at times I found the story plodding.
Sep 13, 2018 rated it liked it
It's been decades since I first read this book. The mystery holds
up pretty well (no, of course I couldn't remember who did it...) but
the description of the narrator's job as a NYPL librarian drove me wild.
It was completely and totally inaccurate. Even in the 1980s, NYPL
librarians didn't catalog, and work on the reference desk, and look
for lost books. And they definitely did not spend hours in the stacks looking
for poems by their ex-husbands unless they were sloughing off. Geez.
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Yes, I liked this but had expected to like it more. The story is somewhere between a murder mystery and a psychological thriller, but although the writing was good in itself and at times brilliant I wasn't actually thrilled by this. To say exactly why would be a spoiler. The mystery is well established about two-thirds of the way through and from there I couldn't put it down. Unfortunately I was disappointed with the outcome.
Andy Plonka
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: src
Although I'm primarily a mystery book reader, I was surprised to see Smiley's name on a book of my favorite genre. I was not surprised to see that the focus of the novel was character driven and relied heavily on each character's response to the murders of two of their friends. I like her other novels better.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Having read Jane Smiley previously, I looked forward to reading this novel. Sadly I didn't enjoy it, the characters were for me boring and inane. While I normally enjoy descriptive novels, it was way too wordy for even me...three pages of someone on a ledge? Oh well, we each come to reads with different levels of expectation and life experiences and this just didn't do anything for me.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Lion in the Valley  (Amelia Peabody, #4)
  • You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
  • Pretty Ugly
  • Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer
  • The Fuck-Up
  • And Again
  • The New Wilderness
  • The Last Resort
  • Story of a Girl
  • Reproduction
  • The Dragon: Fifteen Stories
  • Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club
  • The Virago Book of Fairy Tales
  • Missing Mom
  • On Habit
  • What Rose Forgot
  • المراقبة السائلة
  • To Shield the Queen (Ursula Blanchard, #1)
See similar books…
Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar

News & Interviews

Karen M. McManus, the bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying, Two Can Keep a Secret, and One of Us Is Next, doesn’t shy away from secrets and...
62 likes · 3 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“...but from this distance, the velvety reds, flashing yellows and glassy whites [of the roses] seemed to break up the light of the summer sun into its various elements and cast it back far more brilliantly than any other flower ever could, seemed not exactly of the earth, but of space and air itself.” 2 likes
“Laura's gossip was redeemed by its lack of spite. She was warmly objective about every event, taking endless delight in action and complexity, as if she had been bed-ridden in a small windowless room for years and was just now discovering the dramatic possibilities of daily life. She sang Alice through the day.” 0 likes
More quotes…