The Other Typist has one of the least inviting opening lines I’ve ever read. ‘They said the typewriter would unsex us.’ I shuddered on reading that line, for many reasons. Mostly, though, because I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant or exactly what kind of story I was being ushered into. I had strange images of some weird kind of sci-fi tale in which typewriters come to life and begin castrating people at will. Sadly, that wasn’t what I got. For a while, Rindell’s debut does recover from that poor opening, as protagonist Rose Baker grows a slow but stifling obsession with a new typist at the police station which is her place of work. Odalie, a beautiful and glamorous woman who has all the attributes of a gangster’s moll, turns up to her new job and soon has the whole office gossiping about her, sucking up to her, and wanting to spend their free time in her company.
This begins to be a reality for Rose once they strike up a friendship and begin living together in Odalie’s lavish apartment. Set in the prohibition era, it comes as no surprise when Odalie begins taking her new friend to speakeasies, mixing champagne cocktails for the two of them to share. It is slightly more surprising to see the sensible Rose so quickly subsumed in this shady world. But without that occurrence there wouldn’t have been much of a story. The intrigue around Odalie does hold the reader for most of the first half of the novel, but that hold soon disintegrates when cliché, repetitiveness, and implausibility take its place.
The cliché exists throughout the book, not only in the story of a good girl turned bad by a wicked accomplice, but also in the overused similes and metaphors. The repetitiveness is most problematic when it comes to Rindell’s constant efforts to foreground the tragic circumstances which end the novel. We are constantly treated to Rose’s musings on the wonder of hindsight: ‘if only I had known then that this would have such a big effect on my life,’ ‘I couldn’t have known then what this meant for my future,’ and ‘I couldn’t have known how meeting this stranger would lead to me sitting where I am now.’ It’s clumsy and unnecessary writing. A few pointers of this kind would serve the purposes and might make the reading of the novel less of a slog. But it’s the implausibility that really damages the narrative. From the midway point, when a serial killer is acquitted despite the fact that he has had five wives and they’ve all died via a bathtub drowning in which they were all found in the exact same position, any semblance of believability begins to ebb away. Too many things would just never happen. And Rose, a clearly intelligent woman, couldn’t possibly be as naïve as she’d need to be to be tricked by Odalie. Then, of course, there’s the awkward and predictable twist at the end of the novel. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that I’d predicted it halfway through and dismissed it as too obvious and too implausible. Never mind.
Any Cop?: I have no doubt that there will be an audience for this novel. It is mysterious at times, and I’m sure some people will succumb to the glamour and the glitz. But there’s no real story here. Nothing that happens could ever actually happen and none of the characters have any sort of grounding in reality.