The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (Putnam, May 2013)-Rose Baker is a typist for the New York City Police Department and she enjoys her job, even if transcribing the confessions of killers and thugs can seem a bit brutal at times. After all, it’s 1923, and for a girl that grew up in an orphanage, she’s doing pretty well. It doesn’t hurt that she’s very good at her job (she’s a graduate of the Astoria Stenographers College for Ladies thankyouverymuch.) She looks up to her Sergeant, perhaps seeking in him the father she never had and even tolerates the roguish flippancy of the Lieutenant Detective. All in all, the status quo is pretty set, and most importantly safe, for our Rose, until Odalie Lazare arrives:
“Odalie’s hair was not yet bobbed when she came in for an interview. If it had been, I doubt the Sergeant would have hired her, although I’m certain the Lieutenant Detective would not have minded. Even before Odalie bobbed her hair, I had my suspicions the Lieutenant Detective liked that variety of shocking hairstyle, and the kind of woman who dared to wear it.”
Obviously Odalie gets the job and becomes the new typist, and when Odalie leaves following her interview, she drops a beautiful brooch that Rose snaps up and hides away in her desk drawer, not yet knowing that Hurricane Odalie will turn her life upside down, but which marks the beginnning of what’s to come. Soon, Rose starts documenting Odalie’s movements, and some of these notes are included in the narrative. They become undeniably stalkerish, and although Rose acknowledges this, she’s always very quick with a justification. What is overwhelmingly obvious, however, is just how much Rose covets Odalie, with her beautiful clothes and easy way with men, but Rose herself is a bit of a prude (which she also readily admits), but her awe of Odalie is tangible, and even understandable. Odalie’s attentions are like a ray of sunlight, and Rose is helpless beneath them. And so it is that Rose and Odalie become bosom buddies, although it’s glaringly obvious from the beginning that Odalie is using Rose, although to what ends isn’t entirely clear at first. Rose’s name is very appropriate, I thought, since the narrative unfolds much like a rose unfolds to meet the sun, albeit one that’s about to be thoroughly eclipsed.
A world unlike anything Rose has ever known opens before her and soon she’s a puppet, with Odalie at the strings. Odalie lends Rose her beautiful clothes and takes her to speakeasies where sex and drink flow freely, and to parties hosted by the elite, where days are spent at the beach or playing croquet. Where exactly does Odalie get all her exquisite things? And if she is so well-heeled, why must she take a job as a typist? Odalie’s diamond hard façade soon begins to crumble, and with it Rose’s world, the world that she has so intimately entwined with Odalie’s.
I read The Other Typist in one sitting, drawn in immediately by Rose’s fascinating, almost haughty narrative. The time period in which it is set is very important to Rose’s story, and if you like novels that take place in the 20’s, you’ll certainly enjoy this one. You’ll quickly realize that Rose’s story may be questionable, but that said, never has an unreliable narrator been so intriguing. There’s a sense of impending doom that follows the reader to inevitable disaster, but boy, did I enjoy getting there. The Other Typist is an absorbing story of obsession, betrayal, murder, and even friendship, and don’t be quick to write off Odalie as a simple villainess, just like you shouldn’t merely mistake Rose for a humble typist. The devil is certainly in the details in this deliciously thrilling and suspenseful novel.