ElCicco #CBR5 Review #25: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

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The Other Typist is a fascinating new novel that fans of The Great Gatsby, Gone Girl and The Dinner will want to read.  The action takes place in 1925 New York, in a Lower East Side precinct where Rose Baker works as a typist. She and several other women have this new kind of work, taking confessions in shorthand and then transcribing them for the records. Rose is the fastest typist and a straight-laced, no-nonsense kind of girl in her early 20s. Having grown up in an orphanage, Rose has no family or friends to speak of and spends a lot of time in her own head. She greatly admires the old-fashioned, paternalistic sergeant whom she works alongside and places him on a pedestal. She is not overly friendly or familiar with her fellow typists and is especially cold toward the young lieutenant detective, who frequently tries to engage Rose in light conversation. Her life changes dramatically once the new typist arrives. Odalie stands out for her new fashion and fine jewelry, and later for her fashionably bobbed hair. She is a self-possessed, modern woman who is also blessed with beauty and charisma. She seems to mesmerize everyone around her. Rose is initially wary (and judgmental) of her, but they become friends and eventually roommates. Odalie introduces Rose to the modern world but something seems amiss. How does Odalie afford her apartment, clothes and decadent lifestyle? What is the truth about her past?

Rose serves as narrator and the question you ask throughout the narrative is do you trust her? Rose reminds me of the narrator in The Dinner. They both are narcissistic, condescending to those around them (who never seem to measure up to their standards), proudly holding ideas that are no longer popular, not seeing how they appear to others, assigning selfish and hostile motives to others. I found myself constantly wondering whether to believe her assessments of people and situations, whether any feelings of sympathy were misplaced. Is she mentally unstable? Is she an innocent victim of others who take advantage of her naivety? As the story unfolds, we see that Rose is telling her story in retrospect, as part of a therapy for her doctor, but where she is and why she is there is a mystery until the end.

First time author Rindell does a wonderful job of setting her story in historical context. She provides details of crime in 1920s — bootlegging, murder, the growing need for professionals to handle it, and the possibilities for corruption in the system. And there are plenty of details showing a changing society — young women becoming more independent but still vulnerable in so many ways, new fashions and opportunities to spend wealth. The Other Typist is an engrossing tale with a terrific ending. A good choice for those who are drawn to psychological thrillers.