Review: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

Sunday, November 8, 2015
Title: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
Author: Jennifer Kincheloe 
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 375
Published: Nov 3 2015
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3/5

It's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc 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, she 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 covering up. 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.

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.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is a solid and engaging debut for Jennifer Kincheloe. Equal parts humor and mystery, it's an entertaining and diverting read for a few hours. Anna is a fun character to spend time and pages with; she's not always in charge of the situation or the most likeable person but she is a capable and well-drawn main character. The plot is twisty enough to keep readers guessing, if not wholly unpredictable.

There's a lot to like about this novel. I wanted to love it  but I never quite got there over the course of the mystery unraveling. My disconnect comes from the characters in The Secret Life -- Anna is the best characterized but failed to really engender sympathy or interest. Her desire to break free from her pampered life could be of note but it's hardly believable how she goes about doing so. The secondary characters she interacts with as police matron/secret sleuth fare little better. Joe has potential but the romance did not really involve me despite his appeal as a foil for Anna. There is definite potential in both Anna and Joe but has yet to be fully explored with either.

Despite my lack of personal connection to the characters, I cannot deny I was caught up in the plot of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc. Jennifer Kincheloe can write a vivid scene; it's easy to imagine her version of Los Angeles in the early 1900s. I may have called one or two small things but the author keeps the reveal at the end rather well hidden behind authorial sleight of hand. My only issue with the novel's plotting stems from how obviously this feels like a series jumpoff. The mystery itself is interesting but this felt more like set up for further adventures.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is a good fit for historical mystery fans. If you liked Nancy Drew as a kid or Agatha Christie as an adult, this is another in that vein that will entertain you. It's fast paced and good for an afternoon's entertainment.

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