historical novel

Based on the real-life figure of Constance Kopp, the remarkable woman who reportedly became the nation’s first female deputy sheriff in 1916, the historical novel Girl Waits With Gun is not, however, about Kopp’s work in law enforcement. It’s the backstory that leads up to her hiring by the reformist sheriff of Bergen County, New Jersey.

The historical Constance Kopp was a formidable woman, nearly six feet tall and 180 pounds — at a time when (as now) the average height of an adult American man was 5’8″. Kopp was the eldest of three daughters of a well-to-do immigrant Austrian mother and Czech father who had been raised in Brooklyn. Following their father’s departure from their lives and their mother’s death, the three Kopp girls lived together on a small farm in New Jersey, where most of the action takes place.

Girl Waits With Gun (Kopp Sisters #1) by Amy Stewart (2016) 421 pages ★★★★☆

The plot begins to unfold shortly after the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Serbia, triggering World War I. A wealthy silk manufacturer makes the dumb mistake of driving recklessly and ramming his automobile into the Kopp sisters’ buggy — and then refusing to pay for the damages. But Constance won’t take no for an answer, and fireworks ensue.

Girl Waits With Gun paints a colorful picture of all three sisters. Norma is portrayed as a sourpuss who doesn’t seem to agree with anyone or anything. She does the heavy lifting around the house and keeps homing pigeons on the side. In contrast to her older sisters, Fleurette is diminutive, just barely over five feet tall. She is the youngest by far, sixteen to eighteen years old in the timeframe of the novel; she is a talented seamstress, a showoff, impulsive and unpredictable, and so beautiful that she is constantly the center of attention from men. Apparently, the depiction of all three sisters hews close to the historical record.

Naturally, reporters can’t get enough of the Kopp sisters once the traffic collision leads to much more dangerous acts by Henry Kaufman, the car’s driver, and the gang of thugs that seems to surround him everywhere. The tale is suspenseful if confusing at times because of the lack of dates and times to anchor the reader to the shifting timescale of the plot.

As a glimpse at history during the era of the First World War, Girl Waits With Gun is remarkable mostly for its depiction of the extremely constrained roles open to women. The book is well written and a pleasure to read. At times it reads like a thriller.

For further reading

I’ve also reviewed two other books in the Kopp Sisters series:

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