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Debut is a gritty, sexy romp around early 20th century L.A.

“The Secret Life of Anna Blanc,” by Jennifer Kincheloe

Anna Blanc is a petulant, over-privileged, coming-of-age daughter of a Los Angeles banking tycoon, circa 1907. “The Secret Life of Anna Blanc” by Jennifer Kincheloe is all about Anna and is yet another perspicacious pick of Seventh Street Books. This is another debut novelist with the goods to be admired and a product that will sell books and elevate the mystery genre yet one more notch.

I can just see Kincheloe stamp her foot and march off to her bedroom where her laptop is on a small table under a window, fuming at everyone and no one in particular that she is right now going to begin writing a novel and isn’t going to stop writing until the damn thing is done. And I picture Ms. Kincheloe sticking up Post-it Notes, scribbling phrases on a yellow pad, plying through index cards with historical references, and leaving small puddles of blood on her keyboard from relentless pounding away at the story of Anna Blanc, all the while subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches, iced tea and popcorn, occasionally sniffing her underarms to see if she must interrupt her concentration to shower.

“The Secret Life of Anna Blanc” is 365 pages covered top to bottom, margin to margin with words describing the pertinacious comings and goings of a sassy, spoiled, nouveau riche nearly-Victorian “spinster” kept chaste and socially unsoiled in lure of the proper matching by a bourgeois but rich absentee father. It’s the clash of two tectonic cultures – the giving away of the orthodoxy of prudishness to the democracy of impetuosity.

So, Anna wants to be a criminal investigator and work for the Los Angeles Police Department – no problem there, right? And she wants specifically to catch the murderer of an alarming number of prostitutes working the lawful brothel trade – righto!

Now, Anna has never cooked an egg, never washed her yellow Rolls Royce, dresses in layers of crinolines, shops for sport; she smokes if someone’s got ’em, drinks shots, shows a little cleavage and hasn’t an internal governor to keep her speed under control. And her father, no stranger to his daughter’s eccentricities, hires a governess to shadow Anna day and night. So how in the hell is she going to shuck her protectress, get a job with the LAPD, go undercover in the sex trade to hunt down a serial killer, and keep her identity a secret and her father none the wiser – all by a prepossessing ingénue who doesn’t carry money, hasn’t ever taken public transportation, has never paid a check in a restaurant or ironed a garment or even dressed herself, much less been around men in rut?

“The Secret Life of Anna Blanc” is a terrific romp in early 20th century Los Angeles. The book is all about dewy Anna Blanc, and Kincheloe has done Anna proud and hasn’t dropped a stitch in her depiction of undisciplined Los Angeles in 1907. Not to be a spoiler, but you should know that Anna does get a job with the LAPD, as a matron – a servant-like gofer and chaperone for female prisoners – and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess where that might lead.

My prediction: Kincheloe will never write another book as good as “The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.” Better books are not written; it’s a charming story, perfectly timed and picked clean of inessential words.

jeff@jeffmannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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