The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
This feisty debut novel makes the case that it’s tough to be a female detective…especially in 1907.
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is a clever blending of mystery, murder, and social commentary, along with elements of a comedy of manners and a romantic comedy. There is some horror, too.
The story is set in Los Angeles in the midst of the suffrage movement, when women were seeking the right to vote and trying to win other rights, as well. (Ironically and dishearteningly, some of the early 20th-century women’s struggles remain unresolved more than a century later.)
Anna Blanc is a giddy, naive young woman trying hard to get away from her overprotective father and have some kind of “real” life, a life that does not limit her to being a wife, socialite and perhaps a charity volunteer. But her forceful father keeps very close tabs on her and is trying to marry her off to a suitor who is putting money into Anna’s family’s failing bank.
Using an assumed name and lying that she is married, Anna manages to get hired as a police matron for the Los Angeles Police Department. She is supposed to help work with female prisoners in the male-dominated city jail.
For a while, Anna manages to hide her new employment from her family. But after she discovers that some recent brothel deaths actually have been murders, she soon figures out that the LAPD is not willing, nor caring enough, to investigate them. So, with no detective skills except curiosity and what she has learned while secretly reading crime novels, she decides to investigate the murders herself.
And, in the midst of her inquiries and clue-gathering, she begins to fall in love with someone her father definitely would not approve of—indeed, would disinherit her immediately if he found out.
If you prefer your detective stories classically hard-boiled and served up with stiff drinks of violence and darkness, you might prefer to skip this fine, entertaining debut novel. But if you can handle a murder mystery that ranges in tone from lighthearted to tense to gritty and even eye opening, definitely look into The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.