5 stars. Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun is the fictionalized story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female law enforcement officers in the US. In 1914, a motorcar precariously driven by silk factory owner Henry Kaufman strikes the buggy of the Kopp sisters, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette. When Kaufman refuses to pay damages, responding with threats and violence, the Kopp sisters unite to defend themselves.
Sometimes a random book find proves to be exactly what I wanted. I ran across this book via Rachel’s review on Pace, Amore, Libri, and the subject matter combined with her glowing review had me quickly checking it out from my library. I was thrilled to find that this book is a rollicking, charming, and thrilling read that works so well on so many levels. As a character drama, the relationship between the three sisters is deep and heartfelt, and the way they respond to events keeps the pages turning. The story itself is a well-told tale of taking on corruption and malfeasance. As historical fiction, it’s an enjoyable capsule of society, place, and time.
What I really enjoyed about Girl Waits with Gun is Constance’s gutsy, cheeky personality. The first-person narration from her point of view shows her strength of character, and her dialog is full of sly humor–especially her repartee with her opinionated, outspoken sister Norma. Constance’s narration also allows the story to maintain a lighthearted tone, even when the events are grim and threatening. It also amplifies the emotional impact of the story by demonstrating the depth of Constance’s love for her sisters, fierce streak of independence, and innate sense of fairness.
Constance’s brave encounters with Kaufman are of the “stand up and cheer” variety; she’s a great character to root for. No less cheer-worthy are her refusals to comply with social norms of the time. Another crux of the story is the respect and compassion between Constance and Bergen County, New Jersey Sheriff Robert Heath; I suspect (and hope!) the sequels will offer a much broader look at their association.
While this is definitely a fictionalized account, primary source material is presented–newspaper articles, text of the letters, physical locations, court records, etc. The central plot of the book (the accident and the sisters’ attempts to bring Kaufman to justice) recreates what is known of the events. The afterword states that the secondary plot (Lucy’s tale) is completely fictional, though it flows well with the rest of the work and has historical basis. The author’s website contains a wealth of historical background that added to my enjoyment of the story.
Girl Waits with Gun is a satisfying read that successfully blends action, character, historical interest, and societal themes. I completely enjoyed the adventures of the Kopp sisters, and have already purchased Amy Stewart’s next volume of their tale.