Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit by Amy Stewart

First Sentence:  On the day I took Anna Kayser to the insane asylum, I was first obliged to catch a thief.
Deputy Constance Kopp is a target of politicians who don't believe women belong on the police force.  With her boss, Sheriff Heath, running for higher office, she is in a precarious position.  Jumping into a river at night to save a prisoner who escaped from another officer is bad but becoming personally involved in the case of a wife whose husband repeatedly commits her to the local mental asylum puts her at risk of losing her job.
What a wonderful character is Constance Kopp.  At one moment she's chasing down a thief, saving a man from a raging river, making the female prisoners as comfortable as she can, and worried about a woman being taken against her choice, to an insane alyssum for the fourth or fifth time.  However, the most important thing one must know about Constance Kopp is that she was a real person, 6 feet tall, and believed that--"A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.” Many other characters in the book were also real people.  [https://www.amystewart.com/characters/]  One may find that this, and that the newspaper stories, too, are real, makes the book even more fascinating.  They are a true look at both life during this period and a woman's life during this time.
How nice to have an opening which makes one smile.  Even better is how distinct is Stewart's voice.  Not every author can give the impression that the story is being told just to one personally, and with such clarity that perfect visual images are created—"…there I happened to be, in my uniform, equipped with a gun, handcuffs, and a badge.  I did what any officer of the law would do:  I tucked my handbag under my arm, gathered my skirts in my hands, and ran him down."  That wonderful combination is further topped by a touch of humor'—"The boy was too engrossed or slow-witted to step out of the way.  I'm sorry to say I shoved him down to the ground, rather roughly.  I hated to do it, but children are sturdy and quick to heal."
One doesn't often think about the women who would be in jail and the various reasons why they would be there.  This was a time of unions and workers' strikes, but it was also a time when a man could have his wife committed for long periods of time, for "nervous hysteria," with only his words and the substantiation of a friendly doctor.    Stewart so captures the sexism and pomposity of some of her characters, it's difficult for one not to be incensed.  This was also the period leading up to World War I with anti-European sentiment, particularly against Germans, Poles and Austrians, and Constance's sister Norma designing a traveling cart for homing pigeons, and Fleurette wanting to entertain the those learning to be soldiers.
Stewart is very good at weaving together the numerous threads of the story.  They mesh beautifully, yet each is distinct, and the finished cloth only adds to the reality of the story. The twist may have been anticipated, but it was nonetheless effective when it came.  It does lead to a very interesting turn of events that is even relevant today.  The use of actual newspaper stories is both interesting to see for the journalistic style of the time, and for the reality it brings to the story.
 
There really are some brilliant lines—"I wish I could say that we left Mr. Courter speechless, but an incompetent man is never without another terrible idea."  The secondary characters of Constance's family add both veracity and richness to the story.  One can't help but like Bessie, the blunt and pragmatic sister-in-law.
"Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit" is another wonderful book within a fascinating series.  The ending and the promise of the next phase of life for the Kopp sisters is perfect and enticing.  Don't forget to read the Historical Notes and Sources.  

MISS KOPP JUST WON'T QUIT (HistMys-Constance Kopp-New Jersey-1916) – VG+
Stewart, Amy – 4th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Sept 2018

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like a really interesting look at that time and place. I can see how you'd like her character a lot, too.

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  2. It really is a fascinating series.

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