I am a big fan of books featuring strong female leads. Of late, I have been excitedly following the life of Constance Kopp, a reluctant farmer turned cop from Wyckoff, New Jersey. She and her sisters more or less live a quiet life on the outskirts of Paterson, NJ with no close neighbors until their buggy gets hit by a motor car driven by a rich thug. When Constance repeatedly but politely demands in writing that he reimburse her family for the loss of their only mode of transport, he chooses not to. She finally decides to ask him in person but when he refuses again and threatens to harm her little sister, Constance does not hesitate to take him by the collar and threaten him back! This only enrages him more so he along with his friends start intimidating the sisters. I could imagine how difficult it must have been for women in the early 1900s to live by themselves as everyone is always wondering why, judging the prudence of the decision and thinking that anything that happens to them is because they deserved it. While reading the challenges they face, I kept thinking that for many women around the world, the situation still remains the same almost a century later!
Due to their troubles, the sisters get introduced to the sympathetic and emphatically duty bound town sheriff who offers them protection. He takes it upon himself to teach Constance how to use a gun, encourages her to press charges against the culprit-in-chief and helps her doggedly pursue him. The first book titled “Girl waits with Gun” is amazingly written and although the situation for the ladies is difficult, there is plenty of humor and Constance is a super cool woman. In pursuing this rich thug, she discovers her knack for detective work and is really good at it too. She takes lead, makes smarter choices and thinks to look where others don’t and succeeds (Yes!!). A well-built woman, she is not afraid to chase after wrongdoers and catch them – all while wearing a corset, long flowing skirts and uncomfortable shoes :). All this work gets her the job of a ‘deputy sheriff’.
In the equally colorful and adventurous sequel “Lady cop makes trouble”, as the sheriff works to get her a deputy badge, Constance works as the jail matron. She is very good at that job too but yearns to get her badge soon and officially do detective work. Back in 1915, she was one of the few women working in law enforcement that were actually paid a salary, allowing her to support her family. It would be no easy task for the sheriff to convince the county officials (referred to as freeholders in New Jersey) that a woman deserves to serve in the police department much less as the deputy to a sheriff, a job considered totally inappropriate for a woman (although many men in the department were less than capable and did not have much training). The 37year old Constance often gets referred to as the ‘girl’ in the press. Even when she catches a culprit after a chase and a fierce fight (see image below), some of the papers of the day take it upon themselves to make her actions read lady like. Take for instance the headline “Girl deputy sheriff “pinches” a minister!”. The report goes further to completely change what really occurs and publishes that “she stepped up to a husky well-dressed man in front of Borough Hall and tapped him on the shoulder”. Constance takes these in her stride and continues being a totally bodacious cop!
Last year, I was looking at NPR’s book recommendations and chanced upon Amy Stewart’s “Girl waits with Gun”. Amy Stewart’s descriptions of Brooklyn and the suburban areas in the early 20th century and the factual notes of Constance’s life and times, are all a treat for the reader. Both the novels she has penned in this series are absolutely delightful. Constance Kopp is one cop you want to read about 🙂
For more fun details:
Amy stewart’s website on the characters featured in the books- http://www.amystewart.com/characters/