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Girl vs. Black HandIn 1914, a thirty-five year-old New Jersey woman named Constance Kopp was out for the afternoon in her horse and buggy, along with her sisters, Norma and Fleurette. A drunk and restless factory owner, Henry Kaufman, ran his car right into them, destroying the buggy and tossing them into the street. When Constance made the entirely reasonable demand that he pay for the damages, their real trouble started.
Henry Kaufman didn’t appreciate being ordered around by a woman. He was a thug who moved through the world in a thuggish way. Pretty soon, shots were being fired at the Kopp sisters’ house, bricks were flying through windows, and threatening letters started arriving, promising kidnapping and worse if they didn’t pay $1000. Constance and her sisters teamed up with the sheriff, took up arms themselves, and fought back in a way that just wasn’t done if you were a woman in 1914.
This story is entirely true. I dug it out of hundred year-old newspaper archives and court records. It forms the backbone of my new novel, Girl Waits with Gun, in which I tell the Kopps’ true story and embellish it with a little fiction where the historical record was lacking.
One particularly interesting footnote to my research was the way reporters kept referring to Henry Kaufman’s threatening letters as “Black Hand letters.” I knew the term Black Hand as it applied to Italian mafia-style gangs who sent threatening letters to extort money—but was Henry Kaufman, with his German name, really a Black Hander?
Probably not, as it turns out. Newspapers couldn’t resist a story about blackmail and death threats, and as the stories grew more salacious, more and more criminals and lowlifes decided to get in on the act. Remember, people didn’t have TV in those days, or even radio programs. A story about a man who was told to take a train and deliver $1000 to a man leading a black dog, or a woman ordered to take a parcel of twenty-dollar bills to a fortune-teller in New York (both of which are described in a single glorious New York Times story)—well, that’s entertainment, and that sells papers.
Pretty soon, any thug with a little imagination was sending anonymous letters to victims who looked like they were prosperous enough to yield to a little shake-down. The letters shared common themes, easy enough to figure out if you read the papers: Poor grammar meant to sound like crude Italian; cryptic, hand-drawn symbols such as daggers, hands, and guns, a demand for money; and an exotic-sounding meeting place. Check out this fantastic example, with its ludicrous writing (“You puta da $200 dollars in a the alley…”) and its silly drawings.
People did fall for these threats. Enrico Caruso paid off Black Handers several times until he realized that there would be no end to it, and turned to the police for help. By the 1920s, it was becoming obvious to everyone that Black Hand letters were nothing but a hoax perpetuated by run-of-the-mill criminals, and the whole thing died of embarrassment.
But Constance Kopp took the threat seriously, as any woman of 1914 would have. She refused to pay and she refused to back down. Henry Kaufman might have thought he stumbled into easy prey when he ran his car into that buggy, but the formidable Kopp sisters proved him wrong.
Girl Waits With Gun
by Amy Stewart
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: Ebook, Hardcover
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
From the New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist comes an enthralling debut novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs.
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared
Praise"A sheer delight to read and based on actual events, this debut historical mystery packs the unexpected, the unconventional, and a serendipitous humor into every chapter. Details from the historical record are accurately portrayed by villains and good guys alike, and readers will cross their fingers for the further adventures of Constance and Sheriff Heath. For fans of the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, and the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Laurie R. King."—Booklist, starred
"Stewart crafts a solid, absorbing novel based on real-life events—though they're unusual enough to seem invented. Stewart deftly tangles and then unwinds a complicated plot with nice period detail...More adventures involving gutsy Constance, quietly determined Sheriff Heath, and a lively cast of supporting characters would be most welcome."—Kirkus, starred
"In her engaging first novel, Stewart (The Drunken Botanist) draws from the true story of the Kopp sisters (Constance became one of the country’s first female deputy sheriffs) and creates a welcome addition to the genre of the unconventional female sleuth. Colorful, well-drawn characters come to life on the page, and historical details are woven tightly into the narrative. The satisfying conclusion sets up an opening for future Constance Kopp novels. VERDICT: Historical fiction fans and followers of Rhys Bowen’s 'Molly Murphy' mysteries and Victoria Thompson’s 'Gaslight Mystery' series will delight in the eccentric and feisty Kopp women."—Library Journal, starred
“A smart, romping adventure, featuring some of the most memorable and powerful female characters I've seen in print for a long time. I loved every page as I followed the Kopp sisters through a too-good-to-be-true (but mostly true!) tale of violence, courage, stubbornness, and resourcefulness."—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
"How could you not fall in love with a book about one of the first female deputy sheriffs and her sisters--especially when it’s written by the enthralling Amy Stewart? Full of long-held secrets, kicked-up dust, simmering danger, and oh yes, that gun—this gritty romp illuminates one of history’s strongest women with a hold-your-breath panache."—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
“Girl Waits With Gun makes excellent use of history to put a fresh spin on classic cop-and-crook types. Amy Stewart's true-life protagonist is a ‘rough and tumble’ version of the early 20th century's New Woman. She is witty, sharply-drawn, and suffers no fools!”—Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
“Yowza! Amy Stewart’s debut boasts pomaded gangsters, pistol-packin’ dames, kidnappings, shots in the dark, and everything from Girls Gone Wrong to carrier pigeons finding their way home. You might want to stay up all night reading, you might want to lie down on your fainting couch with a cool cloth on your forehead. Either way, you’ll have the time of your life.” —Robert Goolrick, New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife
"Girl Waits with Gun is fresh, funny and utterly compelling-- and Constance Kopp and her sisters are not just great investigators, but completely original women. It was a blast from start to finish and I can’t wait to see what Deputy Kopp gets up to next."— Lisa Lutz, author of The Spellman Files, How to Start a Fire, and others
“Amy Stewart has crafted the best kind of historical novel; she uncovers an intriguing, all-but-forgotten historical nugget and spins it into a wildly entertaining tale with an engaging, tough-minded heroine. Girl Waits With Gun hits the bulls-eye.”—Daniel Stashower, author of The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
“Amy Stewart’s debut novel Girl Waits With Gun is an irresistible and thoroughly enjoyable book, a suspenseful historical mystery spiced with marvelous characters, wit, and humor. Is it too soon to beg for a sequel?” —Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule
“Engaging, lively, and substantive, Girl Waits with Gun is a perfect mystery, and the Kopp sisters are my new best friends. Amy Stewart writes about crime as well as she writes about plants and poisons. I loved this book, and will be first in line for the next installment.”—Sara Gran, author of Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway
About the AuthorAmy Stewart is the author of seven books. Her latest, Girl Waits With Gun, is a novel based on a true story. She has also written six nonfiction books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers: The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She lives in Eureka, California, with her husband Scott Brown, who is a rare book dealer. They own a bookstore called Eureka Books. The store is housed in a classic nineteenth-century Victorian building that Amy very much hopes is haunted.
Stewart has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other newspapers and magazines, and has appeared frequently on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, and--just once--on TLC's Cake Boss. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society's Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award.
For more information visit Amy Stewart's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
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