Thursday July 11

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell: Blind Pigs and the Seeing Kind

I’m pretty sure I should have come of age during the era of bootlegging and speakeasies, where I’d dance all night in a flapper dress, drink like a sailor, and smoke with one of those swanky, long cigarette holders. Fortunately, I can time-travel through books to the 1920s, which is precisely when Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist takes place.

This novel features Rose Baker, who’s prim and proper, predictable and mousey. She’s a typist for the New York City Police Department, responsible for carefully recording interviews and confessions, and she’s nothing if not professional – in fact, she’s a straight-laced but likeable bore. This book also has oodles of hints of intrigue to come, right from chapter one when Rose announces, “It all went on harmoniously, that is, until they hired the other typist.” (Cue the music: Bah-bahm-BAHM!)

“The other typist” is Odalie Lazare, and she’s the polar opposite of Rose: She has social grace, money, and allure, and people are drawn to her like bees to pollen. Rose soon finds herself wrapped up in Odalie’s beehive after she moves into Odalie’s plush apartment, enjoying the trappings of wealth all on someone else’s dime. As enamored as she is of Odalie herself, Rose also comes to love her flamboyant life, filled with blind pigs and colorful characters. Yet Ms. Lazare tells conflicting stories about her upbringing and betrothed status ... and she seems to disappear with various men quite often. But Rose shrugs off her questions, because she’s having too good of a time being Odalie’s BFF to jeopardize her coveted role.

Before long, Odalie is asking her dear friend Rose to compromise herself in ways that would leave the Old Rose aghast, but BFF Rose complies with little internal struggle. The unasked questions continue to pile up, an “accident” occurs, and a robust twist rounds out this scintillating tale.

Inspired by both The Great Gatsby and the work of Alfred Hitchcock, The Other Typist is absolutely mesmerizing. Women’s newfound independence is the leitmotif. Set during Prohibition where drinking and women bobbing their hair were rebellious acts, author Suzanne Rindell has created a rich period feel both in writing style and subject. Rindell builds the anticipation throughout the book in an expert, calm fashion, unraveling the story thread by thread; I daresay your opinion of Rose will change by the epilogue.

Oddly enough, the plot is a familiar one, but the author has crafted it and the characters so skillfully that it just doesn’t matter even to the pickiest of readers. Best of all, The Other Typist is one of those books you’ll find yourself animatedly discussing (if not debating) over coffee with friends.

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