Amy Stewart, Girl Waits with Gun (2015)
I chose this book to go with the February prompt of the Unread Shelf challenge: a book I got for free, as I got it from a dear friend, but it could have also met the January prompt: a book with high expectations. This novel is a typical case of high expectations… which were not entirely met. (Luckily for the books I chose in January, my expectations then didn’t let me down). My high expectations came with the Elizabeth Gilbert’s blurb, calling it “smart, romping, hilarious”, and with the stylish cover art showing a short hair girl with a gun.
I should have known better than to trust blurbs, and a quick read of the back cover informs me that the action takes place in 1914, which is not at all the style of hair and hat that the book cover presents. (Yes, I am a stickler with historical fashion faux-pas, and all sorts of anachronisms). I’m sorry for the author, but the publisher’s choices are plain misleading. The book is smart, but romping and hilarious it is not. I found it rather slow-going, which is also fine except when one expects romping. The book sticks closely to the historical facts, and realistic history is rarely romping and hilarious per se. And because the author takes her research seriously enough to provide source materials at the end, I’m sure she is as sorry as I am about poor hair choices of the cover art.
I am surprised that the novel was published in 2015, because it seems that I have heard a lot of glowing reviews about it in 2019 and last year, and I had not noticed it so much when it first came out. Anyway. The book had attracted my attention by being presented as a historical crime fiction based on the little-known but true facts of the first female deputy sheriff. I was therefore disappointed that the book was more about the three sisters Kopp, who led a dull and isolated life on a small farm of New Jersey with no professions of their own. The bulk of the book does not feature a deputy sheriff at all, this is actually what the next book might well be about.
Still, there’s a lot of good things about this book. The research I already mentioned makes living in New Jersey in 1914 very true to life. We see how few prospects respectable girls had, and how any straying from the rightful path might be punished socially for years. We see three girls who have been raised by a very strict immigrant mother from Austria, who defined rules and behaviors and limited her daughters’ choices so much that even beyond the grave the girls can’t really decide for themselves how they want to lead their life. Constance Kopp’s slow awakening from these rigorous Victorian rules is interesting: the fact that only an unlucky close encounter with thugs and crime opens her eyes to who she wants to be makes her an endearing character, one who has a lot of potential for new adventures. I’ve just checked and it seems that there are now 7 books in the series (!!), I’m just not patient enough to follow it through.