Rose Baker is a NYPD typist, recording the confessions of those who are brought into her precinct for questioning. She’s plain, mousy, an orphan with no ties to anyone. She lives by the rules. She types 160 words a minute and prides herself on her dispassionate ability to “report with accuracy.” Or so she says.
Rose is the narrator of “The Other Typist,” a page-turner by Suzanne Rindell. Set in the 1920s, it captures the carefree glamor of the Jazz Age – and its corrupt underside.
Her life is predictable, mundane and dull, until “they hired the other typist.” She was taught at the orphanage that took her in as a small, abandoned child that plainness was a virtue. “Lucky for me I discovered I had a special talent for plainness,” she says without a hint of humor. She also had a talent for spying and observing what was going on around her.
Odalie is everything Rose is not: she is fashionable, flirtatious, fast and fun. She is “magnetic” and, indeed, bewitching and beautiful. She is irresistibly charming.
Opposites attract. Rose, of course, becomes obsessed with Odalie from the first day she joins the precinct's typing pool. Before you can say “speakeasy,” Rose has moved into Odalie’s luxurious doorman apartment, leaving her life in a dreary Brooklyn rooming house far, far behind.
Inexorably, Rose is drawn into Odalie’s life. She begins to break rules:
I’ve always been the sort of individual to live her life by the rules. In the absence of flesh-and-blood equivalents, over the years I’ve taken a series of rules to serve as my mother, my father, my siblings, even my lovers – if an idea of love can indeed be derived from the sort of one-way devotion I cultivated in my regard for the rules. . . . Until I met Odalie, the only god I knew was the God of the Ten Commandments.
So it’s strange to me that with Odalie, I suddenly found myself breaking the rules I had once held in such precious regard. In many ways I suppose my love of the rules was supplanted by my love of Odalie, and I was surprised by the speed of the exchange. The thing about rules is that when you break one, it is only a matter of time before you break more. . . .I can only say I did it for the love of her, though the doctor I am seeing now hardly accepts that answer.
Rindell paints a detailed picture of speakeasies and lavish Gatsby-esque house parties on Long Island Sound. Rose breaks rule after rule in thrall to Odalie. While there is a touch of Hitchcock in the building of her story, “The Other Typist” owes perhaps a greater debt to Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books’ casual depictions of amorality and criminality -- and murder.
For there is a murder. This isn't a spoiler: Rose's story builds step-by-step to its inevitable, violent and climax. Rose, despite everything, knows right from wrong:
Having witnessed my fair share of criminal confessions now, I can tell you it’s true what they say: A lying criminal always trips himself up . . . by either giving too many details or else revealing the wrong ones. See, the thing about details is they’re nearly impossible to fabricate with any plausible success. If you’re telling the truth, you’re telling the truth, and you’ll get the details right, especially the queer ones.
Does Rose get the details right in this assured and gripping psychological thriller? Is she telling the truth? That’s the big question that will keep readers guessing until the end.
“The Other Typist” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.