Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.
But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.
But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out?
The 1920s is a long, long way from being my favourite era – and “precinct” in the description would normally have me turning away and picking up something Victorian instead. But this book was quite magnificent, and I’d hate others not to pick it up because of what they might expect it to be.
Firstly, there’s the vividly drawn – and evidently meticulously researched – setting, the mix of glamour and hedonism and extreme seediness of gangland New York in the prohibition era. Then there are the wonderful characters. I’m sorry this isn’t an original comparison, but Rose reminded me so much of Barbara in Notes on a Scandal – she has that same belief in her place on the moral high ground, that conviction that only she can be right,and the reader is never really sure whether what they’re reading is the truth or Rose’s twisted view of it. Then there’s Odalie – so different from the drab Rose that she becomes quite obsessed by her, and gets drawn in to the world of speakeasies, smoking, dancing and drinking bootleg liquor. Odalie is a shimmering butterfly who constantly reinvents herself, but we only ever see her through Rose’s eyes and first person narrative so we’re never sure what’s real or the product of her fevered imagination.
The whole book is a real page turner, chilling and totally absorbing – this is one of those books you become part of, and feel there in the moment. It’s never entirely clear who is manipulating who, and the ending – a big and dramatic twist – is wonderfully dramatic and only leaves you wondering even more. Experience this one – I never expected to, but I loved it.
Suzanne Rindell is a doctoral student in American modernist literature at Rice University. The Other Typist is her first novel. She lives in New York City and is currently working on her second novel.