Girl Waits with Gun

Written by Amy Stewart
Review by Jeanne Greene

Horticulturist Amy Stewart turns from the world of plants (The Drunken Botanist, 2013) to that of 20th-century crime. The title, a headline from the Philadelphia Sun on November 23, 1914, refers to Constance Kopp, 35, a real woman at war with corruption.

In 1914, Constance and two younger sisters live quietly on a small New Jersey farm, driving into Paterson when they need supplies. When an automobile belonging to wealthy mill-owner Harry Kaufmann hits their buggy, the Kopps expect compensation, but Kaufman refuses. Constance, who is hiding a checkered past, calls on the man to avoid involving the police. The working conditions in the Kaufman mill are abysmal, but when Constance tries to help Lucy, a frightened employee, Kaufman warns her to stay away. First, there’s a brick through a window, then a fire, then an attack on the Kopp farm.

Constance’s concern for her reputation is overcome by fear for her sister’s safety, her desire to save Lucy, and memories of her younger self. Drawn into a criminal investigation, she takes part in surveillance and stakeouts – carrying a gun – and gives evidence in a sensational trial. The county sheriff even suggests Constance would make a good deputy.

Conditions in mid-Atlantic mills, as described in Girl Waits with Gun, lasted well beyond the war. Although Lucy is a fictional character, her case was not unique. Constance, her family, the county sheriff, and other characters, who are based on real people, are fascinating as well as believable. More “cozy” than coldblooded, Girl Waits with Gun is recommended for readers who prefer crime without violence.