01 January 2017

Books: Girl Waits With Gun By Amy Stewart (2015)

“Constance Kopp is a Brooklynite who'd moved to Wyckoff, New Jersey, due to some personal drama. There, one July summer day, she and her sisters are involved in an accident with wealthy silk manufacturer Henry Kaufman. After a terse exchange, Constance vowed to get the man to pay (what a surprise, that even in 1914, wealthy business men never paid their bills) for the damages. She would write to Kaufman several times, invoicing him for the repair work that would need to done to her family's mode of transportation, but when he ignores her, she sues. Instead of repayment, she starts getting threatening letters from Kaufman and his buddies, signed with things like "friends of HK." The letters were similar to those being sent by Black Handers, mobsters who threatened wealthy families in order to extract payment; eventually Kaufman's cohort also demanded money and threatened to kidnap Fleurette, Kopp's teenage sister, to sell her into "white slavery" (sex trafficking) in Chicago. When Kopp continued her refusal to drop the suit, Kaufman and his cronies began prowling around the Kopps' farmhouse at night, shooting at the building and windows.”

Girl Waits With Gun is based on the true story of Kopp, one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs (it does seem a bit too weird of a coincidence that one of the first female cops in America has that last name). Author Amy Stewart draws heavily from contemporary newspaper accounts, web sites like Ancestory.com, and the few living descendants of the sisters, to tell the story of how Constance became that sheriff’s deputy. 

Stewart, who owns Eureka Bookstore with her husband in that Northern, California region, was researching another book featuring a smuggler named Henry Kaufman when she stumbled upon the story of Constance, her sister Norma, and young Fleurette and their real life, year-long tussle with another Henry Kaufman, a wealthy silk manufacturer, who caused the accident. While the book is fiction, it’s rooted in the historical record and Stewart brings the Kopp sisters alive, with an engaging prose that highlights the age when America was still stuck in its parochial roots. 

The books vacillates between the fast-talking style of screwball comedies (though this book is serious, the humor comes from Fleurette who resembles a 1950s teenager) to the sisters struggles to maintain their farm, from the elements as well as Kaufman. It’s a fast read, well researched historical novel that obviously takes many liberties. But even if the dialogue between the sisters and everyone else is mostly made up (beyond what was printed in the newspaper, and they sensationalized it, just like cable news does today) it’s a enjoyable beginning to a trilogy of tales surrounding Constance Kopp.

NOTE: While this is posted on January 1st, I finished the book last night to complete 63 novels read over the year 2016.

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