Review by New York Times Review
AMY STEWART'S FIRST NOVEL, "Girl Waits With Gun," follows her award-winning nonfiction - "The Drunken Botanist," itself a dram of good cheer after her previous, excellently informative doses of bad news in the shape of rampant earthworms ("The Earth Moved"), poisonous bouquets ("Flower Confidential"), toxic vegetation ("Wicked Plants") and lethal insects ("Wicked Bugs"). Her partiality for villainy clearly persists, for her novel begins with an evil deed, an actual one, perpetrated in the summer of 1914, in Paterson, N.J. Henry Kaufman, the ne'er-do-well son of a wealthy silk-dyeing plant owner, smashed his automobile into the horsedrawn buggy occupied by three sisters, Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp. The buggy was shattered and the women were hurled to the ground. Kaufman, accompanied by a carful of lowlifes, refused to take responsibility. Constance demanded $50 recompense, whereupon Kaufman and his coterie of goons set about a campaign of intimidation and extortion. Stewart has spun a fine, historically astute novel out of all this, adding a subplot and deepening the characters. She gives the narration to Constance, the eldest sister, a tall, burly 35-year-old woman with a down-to-earth manner. ("Mr. Hopper was breathing in that way that large men breathed, as if fueled by a boiler room instead of a pair of lungs.") She and her sisters have been living on a farm outside Paterson for years, having retreated from Brooklyn with their mother after an untoward, life-altering event, only gradually revealed. Now dead, their mother, abandoned years ago by her drunken husband, distrusted and feared everything outside their domestic fastness. Norma, the second eldest, shares her mother's dim view of the world, raises pigeons and reads half a dozen newspapers a day, chiefly, it seems, for lurid stories of crime and disaster. She believes "self-propelled vehicles to be a path to lawlessness and social chaos" - a view pretty much borne out by events. The youngest Kopp, Fleurette, is a high-spirited 16-year-old, an accomplished needle-woman, would-be actress and spinner of tall tales. The sisters' personalities flower under Stewart's pen, contributing happy notes of comedy to a terrifying situation. After Constance repeatedly presses Kaufman for the money to repair the buggy, he and his gang send messages - via bricks tossed through the farmhouse windows - threatening to shoot the Kopps, burn them and abduct Fleurette and sell her into "white slavery." Further destruction, harassment, even gun shots, follow, topped off by an attempt to extort $1,000. Determined to see justice, Constance finds an ally in the county sheriff, a decent man disgusted by the brutality with which a silk workers' strike had been suppressed the year before. While other police officers hang back, afraid of the "silk men," he's all action, supplying the Kopps with a couple of revolvers. Along the way, Constance finds her calling as sleuth and champion of the weak, drawn to the plight of another of Kaufman's victims, Lucy Blake. The woman, a silk worker, has had a child by him, now missing, most likely abducted at the man's behest. Stewart integrates the beliefs and conditions of a vanished way of life into the story, enriching it without playing the intrusive docent. Transportation, domestic arrangements, dress, food, the place of women and the lot of the worker are neatly stitched in, as are the isolation of the country and the public glare of the city, and, most entertainingly, sensational, inaccurate newspaper accounts of events. And then there is Constance: Sequestered for years in the country and cowed by life, she develops believably into a woman who comes into herself, discovering powers long smothered under shame and resignation. I, for one, would like to see her return to wield them again in further installments. KATHERINE A. POWERS, who received the 2013 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle, is the editor of "Suitable Accommodations. An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J.F. Powers, 1942-1963."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 23, 2015]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* In 1914, on a New Jersey farm, the three Kopp sisters the pugnacious-yet-attractive, six-foot-tall Constance; the flibbertigibbet youngest, Fleurette; and the droll pigeon-keeper, Norma defy convention by living alone after their mother dies. Self-sufficient and reclusive, Constance and Norma shelter themselves and their little sister from the world until a terrible incident forces them into the limelight. When silk baron Henry Kaufman rams and overturns their buggy with his motorcar, events conspire against the Kopp girls' continued independence. In fact, Kaufman's frightening threats and abuse of his workers put Constance on high alert: she keeps her sisters corralled indoors, fires shots at nighttime intruders, and works with the sheriff to personally bring down the merchant and his thugs. A sheer delight to read and based on actual events, this debut historical mystery packs the unexpected, the unconventional, and a serendipitous humor into every chapter. Details from the historical record are accurately portrayed by villains and good guys alike, and readers will cross their fingers for the further adventures of Constance and Sheriff Heath. For fans of the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, and the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Laurie R. King.--Baker, Jen Copyright 2015 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Hardened criminals are no match for pistol-packing spinster Constance Kopp and her redoubtable sisters in this hilarious and exciting period drama by bestseller Stewart (The Drunken Botanist). This is an elegant tale of suspense, mystery, and wry humor set in 1914 in Paterson, N.J. A crash between the Kopp sisters' horse and buggy and an automobile driven by arrogant factory owner Henry Kaufman begins a disturbing cycle of menacing behavior: Kaufman refuses to pay for the buggy damage, angry and humiliated in an embarrassing confrontation with a tall, imposing, and formidable woman. Intimidation and threats of violence follow Constance's every effort to make Kaufman pay, finally resulting in her appeal to the Bergen County Sheriff to help her collect. Sheriff Robert Heath has been itching to lock up Kaufman and his thuggish pals, and sees this as an excellent opportunity to rid Paterson of the pack of criminals. The Kopp sisters live alone on a remote farm and are taunted, burglarized, and shot at by crooks of the Black Hand gang as retaliation for involving the police and causing trouble for Kaufman. But when Constance starts to pack a revolver and doesn't hesitate to shoot back, the game changes drastically. A surprising Kopp family secret, a kidnapped baby, and other twists consistently ratchet up the stakes throughout, resulting in an exhilarating yarn. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
This lively mystery is based on fact: the corruption found in clothing manufacturing at the beginning of the 20th century and that protagonist Constance Kopp was America's first female deputy sheriff. In 1914, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp's buggy is struck by an automobile driven by silk manufacturer Henry Kaufman. When he refuses to pay damages, the feisty Constance challenges him. Soon, Henry's thugs threaten the Kopp women at their remote New Jersey farm. Undaunted, Constance goes to the police, who are amused by the tall, confident woman. However, wise, fair, and kind Sheriff Bob Heath sees the wrong in what's happening to the family and asks Constance to help catch the men. The trial after the accident is compelling, offering a fascinating look at how different-and yet similar-legal doings are today. Narrator Christina Moore skillfully portrays characters of all ages and classes and splendidly conveys humor and fear, but she is best demonstrating the warm relationships among the Kopp women. Verdict The clever conclusion will have listeners eagerly anticipating a sequel. ["Historical fiction fans and followers of Rhys Bowen's "Molly Murphy" mysteries and Victoria Thompson's "Gaslight Mystery" series will delight in the eccentric and feisty Kopp women": LJ 6/15/15 starred review of the Houghton Harcourt hc.]-Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Better known for her nonfiction (The Drunken Botanist, 2013, etc.), Stewart crafts a solid, absorbing novel based on real-life eventsthough they're unusual enough to seem invented. Constance Kopp and her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, are driving into Paterson, New Jersey, on a summer day in 1914 when a motor car rams them, splintering their buggy and mildly injuring all three women and their horse. Drunken lout Henry Kaufman thinks that owning a local silk manufacturer entitles him to ignore Constance's reasonable request that he pay for the damages, but he's misjudged his opponent. As Constance's first-person narrative unfolds, we see that she's a bold woman unafraid to defy convention, determined to see justice done and to protect her family; Fleurette, we learn, is actually Constance's out-of-wedlock baby, raised as a late-life sibling by her mother. When Henry and his thuggish friends start turning up at the Kopps' isolated farm, firing guns and sending bricks through the window bearing letters threatening all the sisters but paying particular attention to Fleurette, our tough-minded heroine is not about to be intimidated. She swears out a complaint against Henry, backed up by Sheriff Robert Heath, himself something of a rule-breaker. More threats ensue, as does the complicating factor of a young woman employed at the silk factory who bore Henry's baby and is convinced he had a hand in the child's mysterious disappearance. Stewart deftly tangles and then unwinds a complicated plot with nice period detail, and it's good to see Henry finally get his comeuppance, but the real interest here is rooting for Constance as she refuses to be patronized or reduced to a dependent of her well-meaning brother, who thinks three unmarried women should naturally be living with a male protector. A final scene offers well-deserved new horizons for Constance and hints a series may be in the works. More adventures involving gutsy Constance, quietly determined Sheriff Heath, and a lively cast of supporting characters would be most welcome. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.