The darling "Demon deputy."
In a September low on quantity but high on quality, my standout reads were all about fascinating ladies of history.
Amy Stewart’s Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit is everything I look for in solid historical fiction. With characters based on the immaculately-researched Kopp sisters (Constance, Norma, and Fleurette), the writing – full of confidence, quiet cheekiness, and snappy subtle humour – hits the historical tone just right. There are no jarring anachronisms of persona or attitude that take a didactic approach in retelling history, nor does the story rely on soapy drama to propel the plot along.
Instead, the titular character shines entirely through her own merit as America’s first female deputy sheriff, a no-nonsense woman who sees the details that others miss. It is these qualities that Constance Kopp brings to her work as she sensibly and compassionately seeks to reform the everyday details of the justice system. (One example of this is her choice to spend her weeknights camped out in one of the women’s cells, a matter-of-fact move that demonstrates her commitment to the women she cares for.) At the same time, Constance’s utter unselfconsciousness makes her, if not entirely immune (we all have feelings), at least stubbornly resistant to the narrow-minded judgement of others who refuse to acknowledge that a female sheriff has anything to offer the community. (One newspaper really did call her the “Demon deputy”).
In this fourth instalment of the Kopp Sisters series, it is 1916 and Constance must contend with public criticism after she “allows” an inmate to break free from his transport and escape. Constance also knows that any actions perceived as mistakes could ruin her supervisor and mentor Sheriff Heath’s chance at re-election. The relationship between Constance and the big-hearted Sheriff Heath is one of the great delights of this story. Uncomplicated by either romance or competition, there is a genuine, generous friendship between the two as they encourage one another in their united goal to keep New Jersey safe and help provide a way out for those caught in the repeating cycle of poverty and crime.
However, even aside from the sheer joy factor of this story, Constance Kopp makes a fierce and lively heroine who stands out as a “strong female character” in all the best ways. This ideal often seems to rely on a character who is merely aggressively strong, without nuance, but Miss Kopp is a woman written well, who carries her strength inside her and uses it as both sword and shield against the shortsightedness of early twentieth-century America. Hers is a feminism that cheerfully and confidently recognises the gifts and abilities she possesses and, rather than fighting for her own satisfaction, fights for the needs and protection of others. She respects good women and men who have chosen different paths, but has no hesitation in disdaining those led by desire for wealth or popular favour. While entirely domestically ungifted according to 1916 standards, Constance honours those who pursue traditional feminine ideals and stands up for the people of New Jersey not being granted a voice. But she’s no saint, with just enough anger, a buried secret (and a towering, broad six-foot frame) to keep her delightfully human.
(To find out more about the real-life Kopp sisters, visit the author’s website).
Published October 2018 by Scribe Publications