“The Other Typist” – Flappers gone wild

The Other Typist

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In her job as stenographer for the police department, The Other Typist‘s Rose Baker is forced to hear a number of graphic and sometimes gruesome confessions not suitable for a woman’s ears. Rose is a prim and proper young woman living in 1924 New York in an era of prohibition and waning morals. When Odalie joins the steno pool, Rose distains her at first, but then she becomes fascinated by her. It’s not long before Rose becomes Odalie’s friend and roommate and Odalie becomes her obsession. When Rose enters Odalie’s world, she is thrown into a world of lies, mistaken identity and murder.  It’s not long before Rose’s world begins to unravel. She fakes a police report, attends speakeasies, runs errands for bootleggers, and fights her feelings for the Lieutenant Detective and for Odalie.

I enjoyed the inherent suspense of Suzanne Rindell’s first publication, the likes of which I have not seen since S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep. In the beginning, the mystery revolves around Odalie. I wanted to know who she was, why someone of her stature and grace wanted to work in a dirty police station. When we are taken to her upscale apartment and learn she may have a sugar daddy, I wondered why, if she had someone to pay her bills, she would need to work at all, let alone with smelly drunks and underhanded murderers. After Rose attends her first club and finds out Odalie is both bootlegger and speakeasy organizer, the mystery shifts and the reader wonders how far buttoned-up Rose will go to be near the object of her obsession. Rose soon confides she is telling her story from a hospital and seeing a psychiatrist, adding another level of intrigue. Then Teddy appears to question Odalie’s identity, claiming she is not Odalie, but Ginevra instead, and that she has something to do with his cousin’s death. Later, when Teddy shows up at the police department, the page-turning reaches manic proportion. I think I missed most of Revolution in my haste to finish the novel. After all, Kobo told me I only had 1 hour left of reading to go. Having to re-watch parts of Revolution to fill in the blanks was a small price to pay for the punch line of this amazing book.

The Other Typist is an excellent example of the unreliable narrator. In most of what we read, we grow an affinity with the narrating character. Over the course of the novel, we learn to trust the narrator, identify with her, empathize with her, maybe even imagine ourselves in her position, but this is not always the case. By the end of The Other Typist, the reader is left questioning unsuspecting, mousey Rose’s culpability in the debacle. Did Odalie drug her fiancé and leave him to die in his car on the train tracks or was it Rose? Did Rose grow up in an orphanage or was it Odalie? Was Rose the one making changes to the confessions all along or was it Odalie? Did Odalie kill Teddy or was it Rose? What about Gib? Does Odalie really disappear to begin life anew at the end or does Rose kill her too? Is Ginevra Odalie’s alter ego, or is it Rose’s? Normally I like a story to tie all loose ends into a tidy bow at the end, but somehow, having these questions burn on in my psyche long after the novel is done is more satisfying.

As is the case with Single White Female and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the suspense of The Other Typist is in the build toward the climax, wanting to see how far the characters will go, waiting for the last thread to unravel.

Have you read The Other Typist? Who do you believe is Ginevra in disguise?

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