A real lady cop a century ago in an excellent fact-based crime novel

Lady Cop Makes Trouble is an excellent fact-based crime novel.

The “lady cop” of the novel Lady Cop Makes Trouble was a real person named Constance Kopp. She lived from 1878 until 1931. Kopp was hired as an “under-sheriff” in Bergen County, New Jersey, during World War I and served for about a year until a new sheriff was elected. Amy Stewart’s novel about Kopp and her two “sisters”—the younger one was actually her daughter—is largely based on the events of Kopp’s life and the crimes she investigated.


Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Miss Kopp #2) by Amy Stewart (2016) 325 pages

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Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the second of what at this writing are four novels in the Constance Kopp series. In the first book, Girl Waits With Gun, Stewart relates the backstory that led to Kopp’s hiring as a deputy sheriff. She and her sisters had refused to take things lying down when a wealthy manufacturer crashed his car into their horse-drawn buggy. Despite constant harassment by a gang of thugs in the employ of the manufacturer, the Kopp sisters eventually prevailed in court. The manufacturer was fined what today would be a significant amount of money.

An excellent fact-based crime novel

As Lady Cop Makes Trouble opens, Kopp is 36 years old. She was what was then called a “spinster” (an unmarried woman beyond the usual age for marriage). She worked for a brief time as a deputy sheriff until the conservative Republican officials who oppose the reformist sheriff who is her boss forced him to shift her into a job as matron of the ladies’ jail. Things quickly went from bad to worse as Kopp committed a serious error. The novel relates her months-long effort to correct it.

In this book, the action is less engaging than the historical detail. The picture Stewart paints of America during World War I is fascinating.

Constance Kopp’s world

It may be difficult for us a century later to envision the world as it was during the events in this novel:

  • In the fall of 1915, when the events in Lady Cop Makes Trouble took place, World War I was raging in the Old World. The United States had not yet entered the war. (That didn’t happen until 1917.)
  • Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920 but could already do so in ten states. New Jersey was not one of them.
  • Penicillin wasn’t discovered until more than a decade later and didn’t come into wide use until World War II. Diseases that today are routinely cured with antibiotics were endemic then. Average life expectancy at birth for American women was 57. For men it was 53. By comparison, those figures today in 2018 are 81 and 76.
  • The average American man during World War I was 5’6″ tall. The average woman was 5’3″. So, Constance Kopp, at six feet fall and nearly 180 pounds, towered over nearly everyone around her. Little wonder she was able to tackle criminals on the run.

About the author

Amy Stewart is better known for her six nonfiction books on horticulture, gardening, and the natural world. She maintains a poison plant garden at her home in Portland, Oregon. It’s included in Popular Mechanics‘ list of the 18 strangest gardens in the world. Since 2015, she has been writing one Constance Kopp novel each year. The fourth was published in September 2018.

For additional reading

For more historical information on Constance Kopp and her sisters, go here.

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