Desert Isle Keeper
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out where The Secret Life of Anna Blanc fits into the genres. And the thing is, it doesn’t. Not really. It’s one part historical mystery, one part historical fiction, one part chick-lit (kinda), and all dusted with just a dash of romance. It’s a coming of age story in many ways, and it’s utterly different from anything else I’ve read in quite a while.
Anna Blanc, typical bank heiress, right? Not so much. She’s obsessed with fashion and more than a little flighty – the first time we meet her, she’s eloping with a man her father greatly disapproves of – but she’s also incredibly intelligent and observant, with an absolute passion for solving crimes. In 1907 Los Angeles, Anna doesn’t have a lot of options other than marriage. First she picks a dandy, then her father picks a businessman, and then she discovers what is going on in her city, and is arrested with a group of suffragettes. It turns out, a woman can be arrested for smoking a cigarette. And kicking the police officer who confronts her in the shins.
But being arrested could be the best thing to happen to Anna as she is introduced to the police department (and a certain officer…who introduces himself by vomiting on her shoes) and the temptation is too much. Presenting herself as a young woman whose husband is overseas, Anna applies for a job as a police matron (cleverly renaming herself, of course, to Anna Holmes. Do you see what she did there? Cause she’s intelligent and observant. Like Sherlock Holmes.)
I found myself liking Anna despite myself. She’s irresponsible, smart,naive, and stupid all at the same time, and she’s fascinating. There are some absolutely hysterical moments in the story where she finds herself to be less than competent, or ends up jumping to conclusions. Or where we, the audience, are catching some of these jokes that are incredibly sexual, and she just doesn’t get it. Like picking up “cock” as a swear from the police station, and thinking that they are just talking about a rooster. And then we have a moment where she tosses an ad from the newspaper at her father, saying “Papa, buy me this.” It’s a vibrator. Since paroxysms (orgasms) are good for female hysteria, and it’s not a good idea to self-medicate. Snort.
As for the mystery, we actually have two – the station is trying to track down a rapist who attacks couples, and there has been a rash of prostitute suicides that only Anna thinks are murder. Anna plays a significant role in both of these over the course of the book, but doesn’t get everything right the first time. We actually see her mature and learn and adapt as she works hard to figure out what is going on. She may be irresponsible and flighty, but she’s determined to see this through, to find out what happened to these poor women, because it’s right, and because she can. She is the only one willing to help them.
I kept going back and forth on the grade for this as well as the genre. The story is excellent, the writing is excellent, the only problem is I had trouble connecting with Anna as a character. She’s just so young! Some of it is the era, but a lot of it is Anna’s own innocence and naivete. But no matter how much I may not really get Anna, I respect her, I want to know her, and I want to see her grow as a person, as a woman, and become aware of the world around her. And she does. It’s really fabulous.