Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Length: 12 hours 45 minutes
Series: Anna Blanc Mysteries, Book 1
Released: Nov. 14, 2016
Publisher: Jennifer Kincheloe
Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
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.
Jennifer has been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. A native of Southern California, she now lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers. She’s currently writing book three in the Anna Blanc Mystery series. Book two, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK, is coming out in Fall of 2017 from Seventh Street Books.
Moira grew up in teeny-tiny Rutland, England’s smallest county, which is fitting as she never managed to make it past five feet herself. Moira’s work spans the pantheon of the voiceover world: plays for BBC radio, plays for NPR, video games, commercials, television promos, podcasts, cartoons, movies and award winning audiobooks. She’s won Multiple Audie Awards, Earphone Awards, as well as Audible’s prestigious Book-of-the-Year Award. She has lately set foot in front of the camera again, appearing in “Pretty: the Series” and the Emmy-winning “Dirty Work.”
The summary for The Secret Life of Anna Blanc drew me in instantly, especially the time period and the idea of a young woman going against the cultural norms to do the job she so desires.
When we first meet Anna Blanc, a privileged young woman raised to marry and be the dutiful daughter to her banker father, she is eloping with a roguish young man, her heart set on a life of passion and excitement. Such a life is not meant to be, as she is discovered and sent home to be supervised by a no-means-no woman who sticks to her like glue. Anna rebels against being told what she can, or rather, cannot do and manages to slip away to join a rally on votes for women, where she is arrested. During her brief time in the cells, she gets to know a police matron and sets her mind to maybe one day getting into police work through such a means.
By sheer coincidence, an advertisement offers her that exact opportunity, but as a single woman she cannot possibly be considered. And so begins the Secret Life of Anna Blanc, now Anna Holmes, a married woman, who is more than capable of the job. To keep her supervisor at bay, Anna pays for her silence and begins work at the LAPD of 1907.
Her arrival coincides with a series of deaths of prostitutes. Recorded as suicides by the police and coroner, Anna is unconvinced, and begins her own investigations, taking her to places that a lady of her breeding and wealth shouldn’t be seen in. But, then again, Anna is not by any means typical of her peers, and is determined to find the killer.
It’s fair to say, Anna takes some getting used to. She comes over as quite naive and selfish, and her line of thinking fluctuates like the wind. We are privy to all her thoughts – and there are a lot of them -as she eliminates one suspect after another. Her shock at not being taken seriously is amusing, as she doesn’t always do the most sensible things, yet she expects everyone to marvel at her abilities. Her naivete is endearing, her selfishness too, since she really doesn’t know any better. In fact, her whole demeanour is entertaining, and she just doesn’t see why.
One man who is both amused and enchanted by her is Joe Singer, who is infuriated by her as much as he wants to protect her. Romance is inevitable, although never straightforward, and rarely confirmed.
The search for the killer is somewhat curious, as Anna really does go through a long list of possible suspects and makes a lot of assumptions before coming to the correct conclusion. In all, it’s an entertaining story, made even more so by the fabulous narrator, Moira Quirk. Possibly the best storyteller of all the audiobooks I’ve listened to, she made each character identifiable, and brought Anna’s inner thoughts to life in such an energetic and what must have been exhausting manner. For her narration alone, I’ll be tuning into the next books in the series.
I can only imagine the next stories will be as lively, and I’m hoping for some serious progress with Anna and Joe’s “relationship”. With any luck, Anna’s exposure to the real world will see her grow as a “detective”, and be a tad less chaotic in her investigations. I’m not holding my breath though, as Anna Blanc is not one for conforming 😉
I enjoyed this greatly, and look forward to more.
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jennifer Kincheloe. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
Q&A with Author Jennifer Kincheloe
- How did you select your narrator?
- An Anna Blanc fan who is also a fan of Moira’s knew I was auditioning narrators because I posted it on Twitter. She tweeted me and said, “You need to hire Moira Quirk.” So, I checked Moira out. While I loved her work, I initially dismissed the idea because Moira is English and Anna Blanc is American. I didn’t yet realize that Moira can do anything. She’s won a million awards. Anyway, the book is hard to narrate because you have to get the delicate mix of humor and darkness right. I auditioned some 30 narrators, and they had many strengths, but no one had everything I wanted. I finally approached Moira and asked, “Can you do an American accent?” Her audition was perfect.
- How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
- Moira instinctively gets Anna. Also, she’s a perfectionist and committed to excellence. I like her artistic choices. She might ask how to pronounce a word, but she doesn’t need me at all.
- Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
- Yes. I got my storylines straight from the 1900s newspapers. A 19-year-old white missionary woman was found dead and stuffed in the trunk in her Chinese American lover’s apartment in New York’s Chinatown. I moved the story to Los Angeles, but lots of things are the same, right down to tiny details. After you’ve listened to the audiobook, Google Elsie Sigel and Leon Ling. The B plot in the novel is about two singsong girls–Chinese sex slaves–who were stolen away from their “owner,” a tong president. It almost led to a gang war. The LAPD were hunting the singsong girls to give them back to their “owner” so the LAPD could collect a $1,000 reward and avert violence.
- Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
- I LOVE audiobooks. I listen to 20 audiobooks for every one paper book I read. The narrator is everything to me, which is why I’m so thrilled with Moira Quirk.
- If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
- Definitely 1900s Los Angeles! I’d go everywhere that Anna would go–fancy hotels, cheap brothels, Joe Singer’s apartment.
- What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
- How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
- I need to work on that celebration thing.
- In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?
- I liken it to a movie vs. a TV series. You simply have more time to develop the characters. You know them so well.You also have the challenge of making them grow or change in every book. Sustaining the romance is a trick, but I love how Elizabeth Peters did it in the Amelia Peabody series. It never got old. The audiobooks of that series are seriously the best I’ve ever heard (after Moira). They relate the adventures of a woman Egyptologist in the late 19th and early 20th century. Start with CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK. You’ll thank me.
- What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
- Write for yourself. Not for money, critics, or glory. Only write for yourself.
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