Why yes that is a not so subtle play on When Harry Met Sally, which has nothing to do with this novel whatsoever (except the New York setting). However, Suzanne Rindell’s debut is a pleasant blend of Hitchcockian noir and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby decadence.
Set in New York during the 1920’s, complete with speakeasies, bootlegging, and bobbed hair, I suspect The Other Typist* will take full advantage of what Kate (at booksaremyfavouriteandbest) calls the Gatsby factor. Rindell utilizes that decade’s excessive decadence that Gatsby embodies to entrance and entertain the reader. The novel is set during the height of the Prohibition era and centers on Rose Baker, a typist at a New York City police precinct. She is dedicated and efficient, refusing to embody “feminine hysterics”.
“Miss Baker…,” the Lieutenant Detective began to address me. But the rest of the statement trailed off. He stared at my face for several seconds. Finally, as though someone suddenly pinched him, he blurted out, “I have every reason to believe you could take the confession of Jack the Ripper himself and not bat an eye.” Before I could formulate as appropriate rejoinder, the Lieutenant Detective turned on his heel and strode away.
Rose is nearly the picture of androgyny. She wears plain, unappealing suits, little makeup, and has no time for flirtations. In fact, her cold demeanor and stalwart sense of propriety keep her from forming any meaningful relationships – until the precinct hires the other typist.
Odalie is everything Rose is not – bold, daring, vivacious, mysterious, wealthy. She entrances everyone she meets, including Rose, who begins to idolize her and is quickly pulled into her world. Before she knows it, Rose has left her boarding house behind and is staying in Odalie’s posh guest room. Their adventures begin – parties, bootlegging, and speakeasies – entwining their lives until they are nearly the same person. At least according to Rose. Rose, who takes criminals confessions and accurately types them word for word, may be less than reliable when it comes to reporting the facts of her own life. But who’s to contradict her…
Suzanne Rindell’s debut novel is a lush, evocative, darkly comic noir. I enjoyed it immensely and although I am rarely surprised, the end of this novel shocked me. Rindell hints that Rose may not be the most reliable narrator of events, referencing her current situation and her doctor, but never quite says what’s going on. The result, as I’m sure the author intended, is a novel that keeps you turning the pages (and then turning them back again to see if you missed a clue or two).
The author is a vivid storyteller; nearly every scene is expertly detailed without being overdone. Rindell brings the Jazz era to life effortlessly through the eyes of these two young women – the novel immediately captures your interest. The Other Typist is an easy read and perfect book to start the summer with (or to get in the mood for The Great Gatsby). 4/5. Now read it so we can discuss. Recommended song: The XX – Fiction.
*I received a review copy from Amy Einhorn Books in exchange for an honest review.
Never underestimate the importance of gin in the Jazz Era. I am recommending a sidecar to accompany your reading – it’s of particular importance later in the novel.