Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart

Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp are well on their way to eccentric spinsterhood when local silk man Henry Kaufman crashes into their buggy one summer day in 1914. Based on a true story, Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun shows us how Constance’s efforts to stand up for her family lead to violent showdowns World War I-era Paterson and Hackensack, New Jersey. Kaufman is not a man to be crossed—but neither is Constance a woman to trifle with.

The crash that opens Girl Waits with Gun completely destroys the Kopp sisters’ buggy. Fortunately, no one is hurt too badly. The trouble begins when Constance travels into Paterson some weeks later to deliver an invoice to Kaufman for the buggy repairs. Her letters had had no effect. In Kaufman’s office, the man himself is surrounded by the same cronies who were piled into the car that crashed into the Kopps. They encourage him to send Constance away with threats. While the threats make Constance quail inside, she still manages to humiliate Kaufman by slamming him into a wall when he tries to hustle her out of his office. It’s not long after this confrontation that bricks with written threats attached are hurled through the windows of the Kopp sisters’ farm. Then there are drive-bys. Shots are fired.

Constance is caught between Kaufman and his gang friends (believed to be members of the Black Hand) and the law. Local government is reluctant to touch Kaufman because he’s a rich silk factory owner. Only the sheriff of Bergen County, Robert Heath, will help her after the prosecutor blows her off. Meanwhile, Constance is approached by a girl who bore Kaufman’s child only to have that child disappear during a silk strike. Constance can’t bear for Lucy’s justified complaints to be ignored either. With Heath’s help, Constance turns herself into an investigator.

As if this weren’t interesting enough, Stewart includes chapters that flash back to Constance and her sister Norma’s childhood, to help explain why the sisters are so odd. We learn why Constance is so fiercely protective of women and their children. We learn why Norma is so determined to keep herself to her self. And we learn why Fleurette is so sheltered and spoiled. Girl Waits with Gun is a double threat. The main plots give us a strong, unusual thriller. The flashbacks provide a deep psychological portrait of our chief protagonist.

There is one small problem with Girl Waits with Gun. Like other thriller-type novels based on true stories, sometimes the actual timeline does not lend itself to dramatic pacing in novel form. Don’t get me wrong. The ending of this book is pretty good. But it is a bit of a fizzle after the excitement of Constance’s gun fights. I was expecting a big showdown. There isn’t one. I suspect that if I had fewer expectations for this book, I would have no problem giving it a solid rave review. It is absolutely not the author’s fault that history didn’t include a big, messy showdown between Constance and Kaufman. History let us all down a bit.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 1 September 2015.

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