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October 01, 2015

Girl Waits With Gun

Girl Waits With GunGirl Waits With Gun

By: Amy Stewart

Author Amy Stewart, whose previous works of nonfiction brought a new spin to botany and the insect world, found the inspiration for her first novel in a century-old newspaper article. While researching a bootlegger for The Drunken Botanist, she found a possible connection to Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in America.

In 1914, Constance is thirty-five years old, six feet tall, 180 pounds, unemployed, and unmarried.  She and her two sisters, cantankerous Norma and dreamy Fleurette, live reclusively in the New Jersey countryside. One day an automobile crashes into their horse-drawn buggy, and Constance feels strongly that the driver should pay for the repairs. She mails an itemized invoice to the driver, silk factory manager Henry Kaufman. It seems reasonable enough.

Over the coming weeks and months, the situation escalates. Henry Kaufman, alternating between drunken apoplexy and slow-burn revenge, begins harassing the three sisters. It starts with obscenities hollered from a passing vehicle, but soon they’re on to kidnapping threats and arson. All of this is orchestrated in such a way that the evidence against Kaufman wouldn’t hold up in court, of course.

Meanwhile, Constance is busy trying to convince the police to rein in Kaufman, get a job to avoid selling off yet another small piece of the family’s land, and track down Kaufman’s kidnapped illegitimate son for his distraught ex-lover. And yes, Constance does indeed find time to wait with a gun in the hope of catching an extortionist.

While embellished for narrative effect, this incident really happened and was well-documented. The three sisters were issued guns by the sheriff of Bergen County, who later deputized Constance. Stewart researched her characters and subject matter well, and interviewed Fleurette’s son, discovering some family secrets along the way that she incorporates into the story. Girl Waits with Gun is a fun read, and an interesting portrait of working-class life in early 20th century New Jersey.

Review By: Julia Welzen