The Other Typist
Police typist Rose Baker records confessions in a precinct on New York’s Lower East Side. There’s plenty of work to do; Prohibition has made a lot of people criminals. Meticulous in her work and ever-so-proper, Rose is a throwback to Victorian values. We don’t even learn her superiors’ given names (they are simply “the Sergeant” and “Lieutenant Detective”) until halfway through the book. The other typist, Odalie, is another matter entirely. Irresistibly she draws Rose into her orbit, a world of bootleg booze and bob-haired flappers. Interest becomes fascination, fascination becomes obsession, and before long, Rose’s glamorous life as Odalie’s sidekick has become something much, much darker. When a young man from Odalie’s past threatens to reveal her secrets, Rose moves closer still – giving up not just her morals, but her identity itself.
The story unfolds as a slow-motion psychological train wreck, suffering from some over-wordy explanations early on but accelerating nicely to a set of thrilling reveals. And while Rose is sometimes not quite sure about what she’s seen, or even whether she can trust her own memory, I don’t agree with the back cover’s accusation that she is an unreliable narrator. Rose is typing her own confession – from beginning to end, leaving nothing out – and whatever else she has become, she is an excellent typist.