Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
After a young, rich and belligerent silk factory owner hit their buggy with his motor car, the Kopp sisters bill him for damages. What should have been a simple manner of reimbursing them $50 for the reparation turns into a year of kidnapping threats, flying bullets and cops camping in the sisters’ barn. To convict the culprit and his accomplices, the sheriff recruits Constance in the investigation. Along the way, a chance encounter forces Constance to confront a family secret and face their uncertain financial future.
Based on true events, this novel introduces us to Constance Kopp, US’s first female deputy sheriff. She is depicted as a strong and stubborn woman who is determined to get reparation from the gang who recklessly damaged their buggy. After all, why should she accept another resolution than a man would! Her interactions with other characters illustrate clearly society’s expectations about “simple woman” and how she should act. The well-meaning, but oh so patronizing, “isn’t there a brother or an uncle who can take care of you?” question, asked more than once in the novel, is evidence of the place women occupied in society.
Even if a little stereotypical, Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp take life in this novel. Norma, dependable and more conservative has a passion for pigeons, and Fleurette, childish and a little spoiled likes to design and sew new clothes. After some time, I felt like I could predict how they would react to new situations. Other secondary characters, such as the sheriff, are also well-fleshed and coherent. In fact, the less detailed characters are the villains of the book. Obviously, the author did not want to spend much time with them, or the documents she used did not offer more information about them. The gang felt like an ominous and ill-defined presence throughout the book, which was a really effective way to transmit the oppressive feeling felt by the sisters to the reader.
I came to this book without knowing it was based on true events (in fact I discovered this information in the postface of the book). So, I was expecting a fast-paced story, with a gun-bearing too-modern heroin. What I discovered instead was a slower-paced book based more on the ambiance and social dynamics of the era than the action of the story. It was for me a good surprise: good because I took away a lot more from this book than I would have from a “simple” mystery, but some sections seemed to lag a little.
All in all, I thought it was a good portrait of an era and of an exceptional woman and the circumstances that helped her show the world who she was and that she would not sit back and take the beating in silence. Constance Kopp is a model that should be known and followed by many young, and less young, ladies nowadays.
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Reviewed for MCT by Marie Claude.