I was a reluctant passenger, seduced by Rindell’s protagonist as slyly as is Rose Baker’s character by new typist Odalie Lazare. Rose is a Victorian-era throwback at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, a typist in a Lower East Side New York City police department. Acerbic, virginal Rose is unprepared for the appearance of the dark-haired beauty hired to assist with an increase of cases since the passage of the Volstead Act. In thrall to the worldly Odalie from the first, the businesslike Rose is the polar opposite of Lazare, whose casual elegance belies her employment in such a menial position. Obsessed with the contradictions that compose Odalie’s personality, Rose begins to systematically rationalize any disloyal thoughts about Odalie’s motives, lifestyle, or eventual overtures of friendship: “Just like all the others around here, I had developed a taste for her mystery.”
As the plot evolves, it is Rose who dominates the tale, Rose who ruminates, scribbles journals describing the minutiae of Odalie’s days, slides seamlessly into her new role as valuable sidekick—Cinderella’s stepsister at the ball in borrowed finery, a world impossible for Rose to imagine pre-Odalie. Though the bob-haired, Jazz Age beauty leads Rose into the wonders of illegal after-hours revelry and privilege, the prudish, raised-by-nuns orphan is by no means a helpless victim, moral ambiguity an element in the relationship from their first meeting. The social ramifications are fascinating: a lonely spinster caught in a dramatic personal evolution. Though Rose is hardly an anomaly—raised in a convent, typist in a police bureaucracy, confined by upbringing and economic opportunity—the extremity of her daily sacrifices define Rose as easy prey for Odalie.
In her role as friend-companion, Rose remains a mystery: not yet steady or assured in her choices, passionate, even dangerous and anything but predictable, the real gem in this novel. In spite of Odalie’s obvious attractiveness to all and sundry, Rose is a diamond in the rough, potentially either amoral outlaw or a force to be reckoned with. Either way, she is more than Odalie expects or credits cracking the rigid veneer of a proscribed existence, the contours of her future as yet unrecognizable. This is a powerful idea, an inspiration, the seduction of the inexperienced by a sly manipulator, much of the plot in service to Rose’s slavish acceptance of Odalie’s questionable behavior.
But there is a darker element to the relationship, one grounded in Rose’s tendency to inhabit extremes: rigid moralist by day, chaste hedonist by night. The jarring dislocations of an ordered life should not be discounted. Just when I’ve made my peace with Rose Baker’s altered sensibilities since meeting Odalie Lazare, Rindell throws a curveball. The popular concept of Prince Charming is shrouded in the vague conceit of Victorian-era intimacy, that peculiar closeness of spirit without a physical component allowing Rose flights of fancy that will not be available to future generations. In this shadowy place, the psychologically intimate world of two women, the novel draws both its power and the intimation of something vitally amiss.