The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (audio)

typistThis book reminds me very much of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, with similarities extending to the audio narration, as well. And considering how much I loved that book, and narration, this is a high compliment. They share a setting in New York City early in the 20th century (in this case, Prohibition era), a concentration on class differences, a slinky sensual tone, and an appreciation for the finer things in life. The final shared characteristic is a major plot twist late in the book, here subtly foreshadowed from early on. And that is where I struggle a little with this review: I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, because it makes the book. Read on safely; I’ll be careful.

Meet Rose Baker, our narrator. She was raised in a Catholic orphanage and now works as a typist in a precinct office of the New York Police Department. The book opens with a discussion of the controversy surrounding young women working as typists at all, let alone in the “rough” environs Rose inhabits: she frequently witnesses and transcribes the confessions of murderers and rapists (gasp). That opening passage helps establish the setting, along with a following reference to the Volstead Act (which prohibited alcohol in the United States).

And now, meet Odalie Lazare, the “other typist.” There were already two typists besides Rose at the precinct, but Odalie is a different sort. Glamorous, seductive, and strangely well-off for someone who would work as a police department typist, Rose is bewitched from the first. The two become “bosom friends,” and Rose becomes… devoted? obsessed? It all depends upon your definitions, of course.

Suzanne Rindell’s construction and development of Rose Baker as an unreliable narrator is delicious. We know Rose for a great many pages as a sober, morally upright young lady and professional; she describes Odalie’s entrance into her life with a sense of foreboding, but with no clue as to what has happened between them. And then there is the first, very brief, reference to Rose’s doctor. Later, there is another flashing reference to the “incident.” Thus, our sober and reliable narrator is undermined, but just so swiftly and for just a moment – did we even see it at all? And I’m left, as the reader, wondering about this incident and why Rose needs a doctor; and then I’m back in Rose’s story, seeing her as the responsible character again. It is a masterful building of tension and questions; I ate it up.

One of the many strengths of this story is in its strong sense of time and place. Prohibition New York is colorful; one can hear and smell and taste its flavors. I will have to leave it to another, older reader to speak to its authenticity, but I am certainly convinced. The writing style, and Gretchen Mol’s reading style, contribute to the feel of an earlier time; sentences are a little long and formal, in a way that just creates more atmosphere.

Rindell’s fine sense of pacing, the doling out of detail and prolepsis, is adept. It is not everyday that I am this drawn in and enchanted by a story; I couldn’t wait to hear what would happen next; I was guessing and second-guessing. As a thriller, The Other Typist evoked some of Tana French’s best work (as here).

Although I was captivated by the swirling mists of speakeasies and Odalie’s wily ways as the femme fatale, I think my favorite part of this experience was the buildup to the big reveal, and the mystery left therein. The Other Typist was a pleasurable rush and romp, and has left me wanting more of Suzanne Rindell’s magic. Reader Gretchen Mol was perfect and not to be missed: do find this one on audio if you can.

Rating: 8 champagne cocktails.

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