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Etta    by Gerald Kolpan order for
by Gerald Kolpan
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2009 (2009)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Since little is known about the life of the Sundance Kid's companion, Etta Place, Gerald Kolpan was able to give his imagination free rein in sketching in all kinds of fascinating details for her adventurous story in Etta. We get to know Etta from her journal entries (filled with her reactions to all she encounters) and the Sundance Kid from his caring letters home to his father.

Kolpan writes Etta's beginnings as Lorinda Jameson, a beautiful Philadelphia debutante and daughter of a financier who shoots himself after years of drinking and increasing debt. Left penniless - and with members of The Black Hand (to whom her father owed a large sum for horse betting) on her heels - Lorinda flees the city, heading west with the name of Etta Place. Though she starts her new life as a Harvey Girl - 'the American ideal laden down with steak and eggs' - waiting tables in Colorado, bad luck soon propels her even further down society's ladder.

After mining heir Earl Dixon tries to rape and then kill her, Etta shoots him down,and ends up (given witnesses' fear of Dixon's powerful father, who happens to own the newspaper) sentenced to hang. Luckily she's made a good friend. Though Laura Bullion uses few words, she and her lover, Ben Kilpatrick, spring Etta from jail (while robbing the town bank) and they all flee to Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming territory. There, Etta joins Butch Cassidy's gang and falls hard for Harry Longbaugh, the Sundance Kid, after he helps her rescue an abused young Indian woman from the very unpleasant Kid Curry.

Neither the rescue, nor his later indebtedness to Etta (who participates very effectively in the gang's activities and also becomes their banker) endears her to Kid Curry, who dreams of revenge. The Black Hand still seeks Etta as does Pinkerton Detective Agent Charlie Siringo (the agency having been hired by Dixon senior). This all plays out in the novel, along with a deep (though fictional) friendship that develops between Etta and Eleanor Roosevelt during a long stay in New York. Etta also spends time touring with Buffalo Bill's Wild West (filling in for Annie Oakley) and meets Trotsky.

It's a great, and very entertaining, ride that Gerald Kolpan takes readers on as he invents a remarkable life for Etta Place (his Author's Note at the back of the book lets us know what parts are historical facts). Though most of what happens is much larger than life and requires a serious suspension of disbelief, it's fun to ride along with Etta and experience America's Wild West at all levels of society.

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