Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

I’d never heard of Girl Waits with Gun before about a month ago, but then again, I sometimes think I’ve been living in a media vacuum for the past two years (a fact which, clearly, I’m working to remedy, because when it took me a full month of regularly using Instagram to figure out how to watch stories—well, suffice it to say, that was a moment of realization). So I completely missed the book’s release in 2015 and anything people may have said about the book at the time. But then I started listening to podcasts, and that was a rabbit hole I hadn’t suspected.

One of the podcasts I was trialing included an interview with the author of Girl Waits with Gun, and though she wasn’t talking about that particular book, I heard her mention it. Honestly, I have no idea what book she was mainly talking about—the podcast was quickly cut from the list—but in retrospect, I suspect it was likely the sequel to Girl Waits with Gun, Lady Cop Makes Trouble (get it, get it? Oh, you don’t, because I haven’t told you anything about the book yet. So, you see, the last name of the characters in the book is Kopp. And, well, they’re girls).

I was prepared to let the book fall into the annals of my mind as something I’d heard of but didn’t know much about and wasn’t intrigued enough to seek out. They really didn’t talk about Girl Waits with Gun that much in the interview. But then I decided to check out my local library (okay, that’s a VAST exaggeration. I decided to check out a different branch of one of the library systems to which I have a card) and Girl Waits with Gun was sitting proudly on a lower shelf of a front table. I passed it twice, thinking no. Then I had to wait to check out and it somehow ended up leaving with the book. Sometimes I think I have a weird book kleptomania impulse. I check out, but afterwards I can’t remember when I picked the book up.

In this case, no regrets.

In fact, I’m actually super excited to realize there’s a sequel. I didn’t know until about five minutes ago, when I was trying to figure out what book they were talking about on the podcast.

The premise:

It’s somewhat difficult to state the premise simply. So, some background information—this book is based off of a series of newspaper articles and court documents from the early twentieth century (beginning in 1914). While it’s obviously fictionalized, some of the basics and some of the ideas in the larger premise are based off of historical documents.

What a great idea, right? Stewart takes the ephemera of history, finds some more oddball documents, and makes an oddball novel of them.

Constance Kopp lives in a rural American farm with her sisters. She’s in her mid-thirties and her sisters are both younger; the youngest is sixteen. Their mother died about a year earlier, their father isn’t in the picture, and their brother is married and living elsewhere with children of his own. The three girls are each independent spirits, stubbornly scraping by without jobs or selling anything except the occasional plot of land from their isolated farm. This book is, of course, set when that was possible. They’re riding their buggy in town one day when a man drives his car right into them.

Constance is tall. Really tall. She’s also stubborn and fierce and unladylike. So she insists the driver, a nefarious looking guy with an equally sketchy band arrayed around him, pay the damages. He doesn’t respond to her letters, so she shows up at his place of work (he’s part of a rich silk family that owns factories in a nearby town), physically intimidates him (because she’s so tall), and then, shocked at herself, runs off.

The girls promptly begin receiving threatening letters attached to bricks thrown through their windows. Kidnapping threats and suggestions that someone will sell the youngest sister, Fleurette, into slavery. Cars idle outside their farm.

Yikes.

Then a woman who saw Constance at the factory approaches her about a missing child. So Constance goes full-on PI, but also scared woman, plus she gets in touch with the police. Finally.

Some arson, gun lessons, extortion, and waiting with guns ensues (oh, the reader thinks, that’s how the book got its name). Plus there’s a bit of a serious backstory that doesn’t come in until later. But when it does, it has a lot to say about the time and the characters, as well as about how the relationships between the characters evolved into what they are today.

It’s zany. The middle sister, Norma, keeps carrier pigeons in the house, for fun, and sends them with pointed newspaper headlines to her sisters to judge them. Constance is always matter-of-fact, even as she does things like describe the wreckage of their buggy, while still in it. The writing is deceptively simple—it’s a really fast read. There’s not a lot going on, deep down—this is mainly a historical detective novel, in a lot of ways—but there is the blasé feminism of the sisters (occasionally it’s less than blasé. But most of the time, it’s just there: they live without a man. And why wouldn’t they?) and some commentary on the social acceptability of having illegitimate children.

This book is set during the beginning of WWI, but the larger war and political tensions aren’t really there. This is more just a romp. I didn’t realize how engrossed I was until it was too late; I’d inadvertently devoured half of the book without noticing it. The pages just seemed to fly by (there’s a lot of waiting, to be sure, but it rarely seems like it, from our perspective).

I will admit that I read the first about twenty pages and then put the book down for a few days, not terribly intrigued or enthused. But absolutely once I’d made it past there, I was hooked. It’s not fast-paced, and so it was strange. It was just such easy reading, kind of a nice mental break while also reading a good book/a fun story. The writing is excellent.

Constance isn’t British and she’s not old. But imagine one of the composed older English women—like Judi Dench or Julie Andrews or Helen Mirren—getting in a car accident and deadpanning it. Being utterly unruffled in her narration as she talks about cleaning the house after it’s broken into (oh, excellent opportunity to clean!). Even when things are serious, they’re not to the Kopp sisters. Fleurette doesn’t even understand the word serious. Told by the cops not to aim at intruders with the gun, Constance decides offhandedly and instantaneously that they really do deserve to be shot, and so she aims right at them.

This book is fun, pretty lighthearted, and definitely worth a read. Hold on, I’ll let you know how the second is when I get ahold of it.

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