Very little is known about Etta Place, the lover of the Sundance Kid. In this warm, deftly plotted novel, Gerald Kolpan gives the beautiful young woman an adventurous life.
Born Lorinda Jameson, a Philadelphia debutante, Etta Place takes her pseudonym at the turn of the 20th century, when, after her father’s death, she discovers he owes the mafia a great deal of money. Running off to Colorado to be a “Harvey Girl,” Etta soon captures the interest of a wealthy ne’er-do-well who she is forced to kill in self-defense. Before she can hang for murder, however, she’s sprung by a friend and joins forces with Butch Cassidy’s gang. There, she meets the Sundance Kid and they fall in love. She becomes adept at robbing trains, and as the gang disperses she’s the one trusted to deposit the cash in a Brooklyn bank. While she waits for Harry to join her in New York, she becomes friends with a young Eleanor Roosevelt, and works for a while, as Annie Oakley, in Bill Cody’s Wild West show. But the Pinkertons are still looking for her; an old nemesis from the gang is bent on killing her; and the mafia hasn’t forgotten her name. It takes skill and the help of a few powerful friends before Etta and Harry can escape to safety in South America.
Interspersed with telegrams, letters, and newspaper reports, Etta is a charming story as filled with train robberies and prison escapes as any dime novel of the time—but written a whole lot better. Gerald Kolpan has painted such a vivid picture of the era—and the woman living it—that it’s difficult to imagine that Etta had lived any other life.