Old movies are strangely comforting. I was going through a really rough time period when I found myself staying over at a hospital waiting-room for most of a week. After roaming hallways and the empty cafeteria I found myself drawn into a waiting room where the TCM station was on. I found myself sucked into the old black-and-white movies from an old smelly couch with the glow of the television and the surprisingly nice aquarium humming nearby. Listening to the staccato rhythm of the leading ladies, and the hard-boiled brevity of the Bogarts and Cary Grants was oddly soothing. Watching old movies segued into reading the books from that time period— Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Dorothy Parker. Noir fiction became a favorite for awhile. I’m smitten with the waggish dialogue, the unknown and the promise of full disclosure, or rather closure at the end of the story. The recent seasonal change has made me want to revisit that world.
I was pleased to come across Suzanne Rindell’s debut novel, The Other Typist, set in that time period. She has done the genre justice, serving up an alluring cut of jazz-age Manhattan, seen through the eyes of Rose, a demure typist in a police precinct overwhelmed with the nefarious activities of Prohibition. Rindell’s debut is strong in the literary stylings of Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith, and immediately picks up and clips away with charming pull. It was easy to get immersed in the world of Rose and her admittance into the back-room gin parties and late night bohemian shakedowns. With such a strong beginning, I was convinced I would keep loving the story as it progressed. What happened next is something I am all too familiar with.
Just as soon as it began, the fling was over. The dialogue started to sound familiar, modern even. I kept flipping back pages to see where the rift occurred. Had I been blind, was I just mooning over the beginning of the book like a fool in love? Where were the witty asides and lively fun of the roaring ‘20s? Where did the noir go? The thrill was gone and within a few hundred pages my suspension of disbelief had been suspended.
Suddenly the ladies’ version of the Big Sleep had become just sleepy. In place of the pleasurable arch-narrative, Rindell labored on, lacking the original charm she started with. It’s disappointing when something begins with such promise and fizzles out, becoming a chore to finish. I saw it through to the end to see if maybe she would finish strong, but it ends quietly, without much ado. During the last few chapters all I could think about was what I was going to read next. What started, as Bogart famously says in the ending of Casablanca, was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Thankfully, there are stacks of unread books cluttering my house, promising all the things that new books offer—worlds to be discovered and the chance to fall in love again.