Saturday, December 11, 2010
Etta by Gerald Kolpan
In Etta, author Gerald Kolpan takes the reader on a rollicking ride that explores the life and times of Etta Place. For those for whom this name does not ring a bell, Etta was the mistress/partner of The Sundance Kid and a member of the Hole In The Wall Gang which included Butch Cassidy, Kid Curry, Peg Leg Elliot and a host of others. Although this gang were bank robbers and held up trains, they enjoyed a popularity in the general population for their insistence on stealing only from the rich.
Since little is known of Etta's life, Kolpan is free to make up an interesting tale. What is known is that Etta was a beauty, who dressed fashionably and could ride and shoot like the best cowboy. In Etta, the name is a pseudonym for a rich girl who grew up riding; the daughter of a wealthy man without a son who taught his only child to ride and shoot and be adventuresome. This background makes the character believable in terms of what is known about her.
From that point, various storylines from the era are brought into the story. Koplan gives Etta a famous friendship. He has her meet and become best friends with Eleanor Roosevelt in her pre-marriage days when she spent her time in New York working in a settlement house. Etta is also portrayed as replacing Annie Oakley in the Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody. She also has run-ins with various Pinkerton detectives, especially the top operative who spent years looking for her and the rest of the gang.
Readers will enjoy this look at the last of the Wild West. The privations of frontier life are shown. Badmen and lawmen alike are featured, with often only fate separating the two. An underlying theme is the way the poor are mistreated by the wealthy, and the lengths that fair-minded people are driven to as they attempt to remedy this disparity. The characters are engaging, and the tone is breezy. The reader is swept along on a rollicking tale that they will hate to see end. This book is recommended for all fiction readers who enjoy a great tale about a time in our country's history when life was less structured and men made their way by various means to survive.