At first glance, The Other Typist seems to be a novel about the changing roles of women in the 1920s and the clash of traditional values with new views on sexuality. But nothing in Suzanne Rindell’s novel can be taken at first glance. That conflict just helps set the stage for what is actually a well-crafted noir blending some of the tension of Bound, the complex schemes of The Spanish Prisoner, and the setting of The Great Gatsby.
Rose Baker is plain and proper in every way. Raised by nuns after being abandoned by her parents, she supports her modest and ever-so-practical lifestyle by working as a police station typist in Prohibition-era New York. But all that changes when Odalie, the titular “other typist,” is hired. In spite of sharing the same job, Odalie dresses in fine clothes, rides around in taxis, eats at upscale restaurants, and lives in a posh hotel. Becoming friends with Odalie opens up all those luxuries, but Rose is even more seduced by the woman herself—so much so that she’s willing to ignore the conflicting stories about who Odalie is and the compounding evidence that she is just another victim of Odalie’s incredible powers of manipulation.
Rose narrates the story as a recounting of the events, and she makes for an excellent unreliable narrator. Her own warped loyalties and versions of propriety make her deny things that are obvious to the reader while offering increasingly unlikely theories to justify her own actions. It’s particularly telling how she only refers to the man she adores and the man who clearly is infatuated with her as the Sergeant and the Lieutenant Detective, respectively. Noir is often about unraveling the narrative, and figuring out how the actual events conflict with what Rose is telling the reader adds another layer of complexity.
Rindell offers lush descriptions of her varied settings from the constant smell of boozy sweat at the police precinct to the blend of shady characters and glamour at the speakeasies to a beachfront manor hosting a luxurious party that Rose and Odalie crash. Rose’s infatuation with her co-worker becomes contagious because of how little truth about her motivations and nature the author doles out over time, making her a particularly excellent femme fatale.
Rindell does fall into using a device many thriller writers employ by trying to build tension with foreboding lines when the plot is enough to evoke the mood. Too many sections end with melodramatic passages such as “I became absolutely aware that an invisible clock had been set to ticking. I also understood this clock was ticking down to something, but why and to what event of course I could not know just then.” Also, once the full plot is revealed, it feels a bit haphazard since most of the relevant components don’t come into play until late in the book. Still, Rindell’s grasp on how to weave genre, characters, narration, and setting into a compelling tale on her first time out makes her an author worth watching closely.