‘Oh, for a chance to shoot at the nasty prowlers!’
Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart is a gleeful, galloping story of bad guys, bad news and bad-ass ladies – oh, and pigeons, a pony, and a pistol if you like that sort of thing. Stewart is a sharp, clever writer with a knack for writing well-written, unsentimental prose that occasionally surprises with a quiet, low-key flight of poetic fancy. She also has a great, compelling story in the real-life, historical account of the resilient, capable Kopp sisters and the fouler with every page Henry Kaufman.
Kaufman was a rich man through no fault of his own, and a vile little toad
entirely on his own merits. He was a man used to getting his own way, through the application of either threat or family money. Then he ran into the Kopp Sisters. Literally. He totals their buggy with his automobile, upending the Kopp sisters and their lives for the first but not the last time.
All Constance Kopp – tall, practical, occasionally wistful – wants is payment for repairs to the buggy, but she soon discovers that doing the decent thing is entirely alien to Kaufman. Her attempts to deliver her invoice to Kaufman ends up exposing the cloistered sisters to a world of threats, violence, and corruption. Her, and her sisters, refusal to be intimidated or ignored would expose Kaufman to…
Well, you should read the book! And give it at least a chapter and a half. That’s how long it took Stewart to captivate me with Constance’s self-aware, cool narration – possibly because I opened the book with th
e vague expectation it would be an American version of the Miss Fisher Mysteries. It isn’t. That’s not a criticism, as much as I enjoy the Miss Fisher Mysteries I think that Girl Waits With Gun is a more…thought-provoking novel.
It’s a compelling thriller with an effective, unpleasant bad guy and high stakes, but it’s also a well-researched historical novel and surprisingly still a very relevant commentary on male privilege and the dismissal of women’s fears. Constance is a practical, logical woman – so staunchly phlegmatic that the occasional fractures in her control are shocking through the page – yet she is treated with condescension and dismissal at almost every turn when she seeks first redress and then help. Meanwhile, Kaufman is so insulated by his wealth and his sex that he thinks he can get away with anything – all because his ego was bruised that Constance stood up for him.
It’s not exactly a story you can’t imagine playing out in today’s papers, is it? The narrative might have been informed by Stewart’s stringent research into the sisters lives – and the social position of women in 1900s America – but the attitudes and hurdles the Kopps face in their quest for justice are ones that should strike a familiar chord with modern readers too.
Of course, as I have mentioned, Constance is just one of the Kopp sisters (and well-meaning, but less interesting, Kopp brother). Dour Norma and ingenue Fleurette – who staunchly refuses to let criminal threats quench her flightiness, objecting to the fact that Kaufman and his thugs consistently misspell her name – are also fully realised characters and important players in the world of Girl Waits With Gun. I have to admit that while Fleurette is a delight to read, my favourite is a sour-apple tongued Norma, who eats pickled cabbage for breakfast, loves her pigeons, and is staunch – if not uncomplaining – in dealing with the threats to her and sisters.
Girl Waits With Gun is a compelling, fast-paced historical crime novel, that left me eager to know more about the historical Kopp sisters and impatient to get my hands on the next book in the Kopp Sisters series – Lady Cop Makes Trouble – which should be out soon!