The real life of Etta Place of the Wild Bunch has been a mystery. What is known is that she was the lover of Harry Longabaugh, best known as the Sundance Kid. After Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in 1908, Etta Price disappears, never to be heard from again. There are many myths and speculation as to what may have happened to her but we will never know for sure. In this novel, Gerald Kolpan tells a fictional story of her life.
After her father’s death, Etta is forced to flee her family home. The Black Hand mafia is after her to collect her father’s debt. If she has no money, they will collect it another way, perhaps by disfiguring her as they have done to other women.
She becomes a “Harvey Girl”, serving meals at a restaurant. She must defend herself against a rich customer who has tried several failed advances. One day he jumps out at her outside and becomes violent. Etta ends up killing him in self defence and has to flee again. This time she ends up with the Wild Bunch, where she meets the love of her life and starts her life of crime.
Etta is constantly on the move but spends some time in New York in disguise, where she meets and befriends Eleanor Roosevelt. She also meets Buffalo Bill and works for him for awhile as Annie Oakley.
Kolpan tells the story with the use of a fictional diary of Etta’s, newspaper articles, and letters, intergraded with narrative. This style really worked for me and added more interest to the story. Kolpan obviously did his research about time and place and captured it beautifully. I really liked the fictional relationship that Etta had with Eleanor Roosevelt but I did find it hard to believe, especially when Eleanor found out about Etta’s crimes with the Wild Bunch, yet remained good friends with her. That said, this is a beautifully crafted story and I recommend to historical fiction lovers.