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Constance Kopp was one of America’s first lady cops. This charming book tells her story.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

It seems entirely too on-the-nose that one of the first female cops in America was named Constance Kopp. But that’s the beauty of basing a book on a true story: You can get away with details that would seem ridiculous in pure fiction.

Amy Stewart’s Lady Cop Makes Trouble, the sequel to 2015’s Girl Waits With Gun, delights in such details. Based on the true story of Kopp, one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs, circa 1915, Lady Cop Makes Trouble draws heavily from contemporary newspaper accounts to tell the story of how Constance made her first big arrest. That the crook in question was a quack doctor who abused young women under the pretext of treating them for hysteria might seem unrealistically on theme — but it’s completely true. That’s part of the fun.



It’s also fun to just hang out with Constance herself. True stories aside, Constance would be a kick even if she were purely fictional. She’s almost 6 feet tall, strong and stoic to a fault, a classic Sam Spade detective who doesn’t quite understand why the rest of the world won’t treat her as such.

As a cop, she’s an inexorable force, and she doesn’t nab crooks so much as she patiently bends them to her will. Constance’s enemies always make the mistake of dismissing the threat she poses to them, imagining that they’ll be able to swat her away, only to find that she is unswattable, that she will always be on their tails. Girl Waits With Gun saw her wearing down the rich kid harassing her family — patrolling her property with a gun, creating snares and traps for him — and now, in Lady Cop Makes Trouble, she turns her unshakable attention to the prisoner who managed to escape on her watch.

Unfortunately, this brings us to the downside of relying heavily on a true story as the basis of a thriller: Reality can’t plot for shit. As Constance tracks her prey from her rural county prison to New York City and back again, the story starts to get a little less gripping. It’s fun to watch Constance bend the world to her indomitable will, but that only takes her so far as she runs down false lead after false lead. Even her final confrontation with her nemesis, realistic though it undoubtedly is, feels decidedly anticlimactic.

Still, based on character and atmosphere alone, Lady Cop Makes Trouble is a keeper. The satisfaction of watching Constance out-work and out-detective her male colleagues is enormous, and knowing that she really existed only makes it better. Let’s hear it for ladies throughout history making trouble.

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