If I was to choose one word to sum up this historical crime novel it would be “sassy”. While that might sound like a cliché, it's apt. Girl Waits With Gun wouldn't ordinarily be my taste in fiction, I'm not massively into historical novels and I prefer to read grittier Noir-ish work, but having been offered the chance to join the blog tour by those kind folk at Scribe I dived in and am glad I did.
Our protagonist is Constance Kopp, a giant of a woman who towers over most men. She lives with her two sisters, Norma, who’s dour and obsessed with pigeons, and Fleurette, who’s frivolous, petulant and immature. Being 1914 and thus preceding the feminist revolution, this arrangement is unusual to say the least and source of some concern to their brother, Francis, who lives in town with his wife Bessie.
The action kicks off with the three women travelling in their horse drawn carriage when a motor car – still a novelty back then – crashes into them. The driver, Henry Kaufman, and the goons he has travelling with him, are aggressive and surly, refusing to apologise or concede blame. The Kopp sisters take his registration number and soon discover that he is a local silk mill owner. Constance writes to him to request compensation for their damaged carriage and soon they are receiving threatening letters. Constance in particular refuses to back down and the harassment escalates to include vandalism, shots being fired at them and arson. Constance reports this to the authorities and while some don't take them seriously, the local sheriff does, and he becomes a major character in what follows.
The plot of this novel is relatively straightforward, there are no major surprises or twists, but like with many historical novels what brings Girl Waits With Gun alive is the setting. I particularly enjoyed the insight the author gives into the casual sexism and misogyny women had to face in the early 20th century, which while I was aware of, she brings vividly to life. As women, they're clearly regarded as second class citizens, who’s opinions and judgements aren't to be as trusted as men's. There’s little in the way of overt prejudice, rarely is it spoken, it's more subtle and pernicious than that and the author brings this out without ever laying it on too thick. People inquire as to what her husband would think, when Constance makes inquiries, Jury members snigger at moments of their testimony, and of course women who bear children out of wedlock are ostracised and sent to homes for those who’s virtue has fallen. Other issues the novel touches upon are the dreadful working conditions in the mills and the pall of pollutants which hang above the mill towns in an era pre-dating any environmental regulations.
This is a heavy going novel, far from it; through the vehicle of the Kopp sisters, peculiar and ahead of their time, and their battle with the bullying and overbearing thug of a mill owner, the author pens a witty and beguiling tale. And all the more surprising because while a novel, the basic story is true. Apparently this is the start of a series, Constance Kopp having won her battle went on to become one of the US’s first female deputy sheriffs, and future instalments will novelise her further adventures. I for one will stop back for more.
I give this 5 out of 5 stars