Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun is historical fiction based on the very real Constance Kopp who became the first female deputy in the United States after a wealthy wreck of a man named Henry Kaufman began a campaign of harassment against her and her sisters.
It began with a motorcycle accident, the reckless Kaufman driving into the Kopp Sisters’ horse and buggy, smashing it to pieces. When Kopp sent an invoice for repairs, Kaufman’s response was bricks, gunfire, arson attempts and extortion with the threat of kidnapping the youngest sister, Fleurette, and trafficking her to Chicago.
Constance might have reconsidered pursuing Kaufman if she had known how outrageously out of control he was and how little law enforcement could do, but she did not know what she was in for. Thankfully, the Bergen County Sheriff Robert Heath, took the threats seriously and helped her pursue justice. He also provided the sisters with revolvers and some training in how to shoot. The wealthy company owner Kaufman seemed safe from prosecution, but the Sheriff wisely enlisted the power of the press to put pressure on the prosecutor, so eventually Kaufman was called to account for his actions. It is those press accounts that provide the skeleton for this novel in which Stewart masterfully fleshes out the rest of the story—a story far more interesting than the bare bones can ever be.
This is fiction and one entire thread of the story is completely fictional, the story of the Lucy Barton and her son. However, while she may not have existed, many women exactly like her did. The rest, though, the sisters, the menacing Kaufman, the lawyer, the sheriff, they were all very much real people. This all really did happen.
I enjoyed Girl Waits With Gun. It is an interesting story with great period detail. There was real peril and Constance and her sisters were women of extraordinary courage and not just in facing Kaufman’s menaces. These sisters were bold and independent before that was necessarily allowed. Constance was not the only trailblazer. I could not help admiring their character. Of course, being rooted in a true story, there are times when it can feel very anticlimactic and small potatoes. I think we are conditioned to expect at least one murder in a mystery, but you know, the best detectives prevent the crime before it happens.