Audiobook Review: Girl Waits with Gun, by Amy Stewart
Title: Girl Waits with Gun
Author: Amy Stewart, read by Christina Moore
Publication Info: Recorded Books, 2015, 11 hours. Original Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 408 pages
Source: Library Digital Resources
In 1914, collisions between motor cars and horse-drawn carriages are an everyday occurrence on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey. But when an out-of-control driver smashes into a buggy driven by Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp, their lives change forever. Constance, the oldest, demands payment for the damages, but quickly realizes that she is dealing with a madman - Henry Kaufman, a silk manufacturer with a drinking problem and a dangerous group of associates. Soon the Kopp home is under siege. The sisters face threats of arson, kidnapping and white slavery. Bricks come flying through their windows, and shots are fired at their house late at night.
Even the sheriff can't solve the case on his own. He issues revolvers to the Kopp sisters, posts guards at their house, and enlists Constance's help in catching Kaufman. In the process, Constance finds herself pulled into an underworld of abused factory workers, missing children, and dirty dealings. Her attempts to help another woman in trouble forces her to confront her own past and imagine a different future for herself and her sisters. Before the collision, she was just a bored thirty-five year-old woman living at home with her sisters in the New Jersey countryside, stuck in a life she didn't want but couldn't escape. But the minute Constance is issued a gun, she finds her calling.
Set against the backdrop of the famous Paterson Silk Strike and based on actual events, Girl Waits With Gun is the first in a series of novels based on the real life adventures of Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp. Drawing on extensive research into newspaper reports, courthouse files, genealogical archives, letters, and photographs, this intriguing story remains true to the historical record. The Kopp sister's long-forgotten exploits, as told in the series, actually did make headlines nationwide in their day. The case against Henry Kaufman opened the door to a life of crime-fighting and mystery-solving for the Kopp sisters. In the fifteen years following the incident, Constance would serve as one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs, perform intelligence work during World War I, and run a detective agency with her sisters through the 1920s- all of which will be the subject of future books in the series. Amy Stewart is a four-time New York Times' best-selling author (THE DRUNKEN BOTANIST, WICKED PLANTS, WICKED BUGS, and FLOWER CONFIDENTIAL). She came upon this story when researching THE DRUNKEN BOTANIST and it took hold of her and didn't let go.
What a story! I'm not sure how much of this is historical and how much the author's embroidery, but it doesn't really matter. It is a little mind-boggling to know that this level of harassment took place and was ignored by many of the powers that be, but I'm not really surprised. The book that grew from a single intriguing newspaper report (and a bunch of research that sparked) is delightful and meaty.
I found that the story pulled me in right away, and generally moved along well, but there is no denying that it is long, and there were some bits in the middle that I found started to drag. If I'd been reading instead of listening, I might have given up, or more probably skimmed a bit as it got a bit repetitive. On the other hand, when I looked back from the end, I decided that those middle chapters where it was all frustration, for this reader as well as for Constance Kopp, were where the character development happened, and the three sisters grew into real people. That might be just for the reader, but I think that the author has done that deliberately. The struggle to free themselves of Kaufman's threats, as well as their efforts to help an unfortunate factory girl, changes the sisters from cardboard figures leading meaningless lives into women with purpose and character. There are at least two subplots (which I suspect were *not* in the original true account) that lend depth to the narrative.
Christina Moore voices Constance's first-person narration without a hitch. She brings out the characters of the three sisters well, and gets five stars for her rendition of this novel.
This is a worthwhile bit of historical fiction, though readers will be frustrated by the injustices faced by Constance and her sisters, and by the factory workers. Sadly, that part isn't fiction. I'll be checking out the other books about the Kopp sisters.