The lead character, Constance Kopp,in Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun reminds me of a grown-up Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s wonderful mystery series. Constance has the same sense of adventure and feisty humor as Flavia, but Stewart’s story is based on a real person – Constance Kopp was one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the early nineteen hundreds.
Constance Kopp, a tall, sturdy girl, lives on a New Jersey farm with her two sisters, Norma, who keeps pigeons, and young Fleurette who dreams of becoming a movie star. The Kopp sisters, though poor, manage without too much difficulty until a road accident entangles them with a crooked, rich and powerful silk manufacturer, Henry Kaufman. Stewart weaves this actual 1915 confrontation into an adventurous tale.
When the sisters demand payment for the damages on their buggy, the villain, Kaufman, harasses them, sending threatening notes. His terrorizing escalates; the sisters receive kidnapping threats and shots are fired at their house. Despite the sheriff’s efforts, Kaufman continues to torment them until finally the sheriff decides to enlist the sisters’ aid.
As the story unfolded, I found myself fact checking, and most of the story is true: Henry Kauffman was a real villain and Stewart used his actual threatening letters in the story; Constance’s deep dark secret is real (you will have to read the book to find out); the sheriff did give the sisters guns to defend themselves; a handwriting expert does help to crack the case; and Constance was deputized as the first female Under Sheriff. Stewart fills in the probable dialogue and the motives, keeping the action fast and the story convincing.
Stewart confirms in her “historical notes” at the end of the book that Lucy Blake, the bedraggled silk factory worker who was also victimized by Kaufman, existed only in the author’s imagination. Nevertheless, the fictionalized character and her subsequent drama helped to add to the villain’s evil persona.
Girl Waits With Gun offers a glimpse at life at the turn of the twentieth century with a bonus – most of the the story is real (truth is stranger than fiction?) And Stewart is planning a sequel – stay tuned for more.