It's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels, but must disguise them behind covers of more domestically-appropriate reading. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals. Determined to break free of the era's rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself. If the police find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding. Midway into her investigation, the police chief's son, Joe Singer, learns her true identity, and shortly thereafter she learns about blackmail. Anna must choose - either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.
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4.75★ Audiobook⎮The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was such an unexpected surprise! It started out good, became better as it went along, delivered a punch, and ended with a sizzle. I don’t think a mystery novel has ever made me laugh this much. Marvelously cheeky and delightfully inappropriate, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc exceeded my expectations and was anything but predictable.
Firstly, Anna Blanc rates 10/10 on the memorable character scale (something I just made up). My feelings for her ran the gamut during this audiobook, frequently swinging from chapter to chapter. She would go from annoying to amusing in a matter of seconds, but I never tired of her antics. Anna was a truly multifaceted character and an avant garde female protagonist, especially considering the ridiculously prudish ways of the early 1900s.
Kincheloe, a research scientist, definitely did her homework regarding the historical setting. Certain historically contextual details were so outrageous and unfathomable, that I knew they had to be fact. It took me a little while to acclimate to the uses of some specific terms and phrases, especially one like “making love”, which has come to mean something very different today. From what I could discern, it used to mean merely whispering “sweet nothings”. Oh, how times have changed.
Jennifer Kincheloe also won me over with her descriptive imagery. In example, saying a slap stung “like sandpaper on a sunburn”. Her writing easily painted pictures in my mind, though not always positive ones. At times, I sheepishly wished her descriptions hadn’t been quite so vivid, particularly the graphic postmortem descriptions. However, I cannot deny the effectiveness of their impact on the story. Kincheloe proved that writing does not have to be complex or superfluous to be beautiful. There was something mesmerizing about the directness of her prose. It made the story incredibly easy-to-follow and enjoy.
I’ve dubbed Kincheloe “Queen of the fake-out” for her ability to pull a bait-and-switch. I thought I knew where this mystery was going and I was fine with it. There was a trail of breadcrumbs leading in one direction, so followed it. It was a masterfully built mystery, so I had resigned myself to being okay with having figured it out beforehand. And then… AND THEN… Kincheloe pulled the literary football away at the last second as if I was Charlie Brown and she was Lucy. It was such an eloquent fake out that I can’t even be mad. In fact, I’m elated that Kincheloe was able to pull one over on me. I never saw it coming.
The historical setting of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was reminiscent of The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, which happens to be one of my favorites. The mystery element was similar to a Sherlock Holmes story, which I suspect was purposeful since Holmes is referenced multiple times in this novel. If you’re eager and willing to be blindsided by a mystery with an amusingly annoying protagonist, a love triangle that’s actually useful to the plot, and cheeky, grin-inducing writing, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is for you.
Narration review: This was my first experience listening to Moira Quirk, but I hope it won’t be the last. She portrayed the naïve frivolity and rueful determination of Anna Blanc with aplomb. Anna was an increasingly dynamic character who constantly evolved throughout the novel. Quirk’s narration captured the growth of Anna’s character, but held tight to her innocence. Narrating this title gave Moira Quirk the opportunity to display her repertoire of accents. She provided the best vocal distinction for characters with marked accents. For others, especially unaccented male characters, a bit more characterization wouldn’t have hurt. But overall, she gave a lovely performance. I look forward to hearing more from her and Kincheloe soon. Here’s hoping for a sequel! ♣︎
➜ This audiobook was graciously gifted to me by its author, Jennifer Kincheloe, in exchange for a review containing my honest thoughts and opinions. Thanks, Jennifer!