I love this series, which is about a real-life woman in the 1910’s who was one of the first female deputy sheriffs. Amy Stewart builds the novels in this series around actual people and events and she ends each one with a description of her research. If you haven’t read the series, but like historical fiction and strong female characters, definitely read the first one, Girl Waits With Gun.
This is book 3 in the series, and it has a slightly different feel from the other two, in that it’s less about a particular criminal and more about how the law treats women in the 1910’s. It’s also more focused on character development, so expect less action. This book takes place in 1916 New Jersey. Constance Kopp is a deputy sheriff who still struggles to get anyone to take her seriously. She watches over her female prisoners and works with Sheriff Heath and the other deputies to make arrests. The book begins with the arrest of a young woman, Edna, who has been arrested on a charge of immorality because she works in a munitions factory to support the war effort. She’s an adult and lives in a respectable boarding house, but despite that, the law gives police the authority to drag her to jail simply because the left home against her mother’s wishes. Constance is horrified by this use of the law to deny adult women any freedom, and she fights in court to have the case dropped.
At the same time, other women are experiencing similar arrests, and Constance can’t help all of them. As she works on these cases, she comes to realize that she and her sister Norma haven’t come to terms with the fact that their younger sister Fleurette is also an adult. Even though they’ve taken care of her all her life, she now has every right to make some of her own decisions. But this realization is difficult for the two older sisters.
I really appreciated Stewart’s insights into life for young women at this time. I tend to think World War I changed everything for women, and really brought them into the workplace, etc. But you see here that isn’t quite true, and real change will be a long time in coming. At one point Constance visits an institution where young women are sentenced until well into their 20’s, for doing almost nothing other than going against social norms of the time. It brought to mind the horrifying work homes for girls in Ireland, and while I’m not so naïve as to think we didn’t have similar things in the U.S., it was a hard thing to read about.
I didn’t miss the action and mystery of the other two books (which are still much more about the characters than the mysteries), but in this book I did miss the presence of Sheriff Heath. He’s such a wonderful character in the first two books and his role is very minimal in this one.
What’s interesting in this book is that you see for the first time real conflicts beginning to form among the sisters, and none with easy resolutions. Norma isn’t the kind but eccentric character she is in the first two books, and Constance is increasingly frustrated with her. But that’s the kind of thing that would actually happen in a realistic story about family. The Kopp sisters aren’t stereotypes, they feel like real people. It made me think about what issues these sisters will need to address in the next book, which I will eagerly await.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book publishes on September 5, 2017.