The Other Typist – a mystery – is about obsession

The Other Typist is Suzanne Rindell’s debut novel, and perhaps her first published writing.

Rindell lives in New York City and is a Ph.D. candidate in American modernist literature at Rice University in Houston. But as confusing as that is, there is nothing muddled about her writing. The Other Typist is a stunning book and as nuanced and florid a mystery as was ever written. Rindell is eminently worthy of a Ph.D. based solely on this novel. Maybe that’s why she can live so far off campus.

The Other Typist is written in the first person, about two women who transcribe confessions in a police precinct typing pool in New York City, circa 1924. Rose Becker, our youthful narrator, has achieved her pinnacle of upward mobility with this low-level job. She’s a plain woman, brought up in a Catholic orphanage, lonely but stoic. Her life changes dramatically when the “other typist” is hired, Odalie Lezare, a femme fatale with bobbed hair, short skirts, expensive jewelry and subtly perfumed poise, who immediately overawes everyone with guile, seduction and mystery.

Everyone in the precinct – detectives, administration and especially the typing pool of ordinary maidens of modest tastes – vie for Odalie’s attention. A breath of fresh air, she might be called, in a humdrum world at variance with the increasingly illegal and compelling Roaring Twenties. Rose is the chosen confidant of the ravishing new typist, for reasons unknown but immediately suspect. And we’re off on a frenetic ride to the underworld of New York’s wild side of speakeasies, fancy women, illicit fun and murder.

The Other Typist has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for foreshadowing changing culture ushered in by the Jazz Age and for similarities in the prose. Rindell admits that her research of the period was exhaustive and that she clung to The Great Gatsby as if it were the Holy Grail. Rindell is not a Fitzgerald, nor can even a careful reader accuse her of sentimentality. But The Other Typist does not have a single redundancy, cliché or overworked word. It is perhaps the cleanest work of fiction offered in this day where anything goes, a book to make writing-style guide authors William Strunk and E.B. White heady with pride.

The Other Typist is a story about obsession: how an attractant is at first loathed by envy, resisted by parochiality, timidly accepted in service of pragmatism and then embraced with impulsive abandon. Ruth becomes the obsequious mirror image of Odalie, accepts an invitation to move into Odalie’s plush Manhattan hotel suite, dresses in Odalie’s raffish clothing, swills expensive cocktails offered by Odalie’s rakish male acquaintances – and winds up in the deep end of a cesspool without having first taken a whiff. What can she be thinking of, this waif of a typist? How can she be swept into this world of what she had been taught by the nuns to be sin and debauchery?

And who exactly killed Theodore Tricott? Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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