Apr 21, 2009

Etta by Gerald Kolpan

Whenever you decide to read a 'fictionalized' story about a real person you never really know what to expect. I came across this debut novel on a few blogs and since I like reading books with a western theme, I was drawn to it.

Etta Place was known as the Sundance Kid's girlfriend and a member of the Hole-In-The-Wall-Gang from the late 1800's. Not much is known about this mysterious woman other than her striking beauty, her taste for fine clothing and apparent privileged family lineage.

Here's what Random House says about the book ~

Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a stunning debut novel.

Kolpan imagines that Etta Place was born Lorinda Jameson, the daughter of a prominent financier, who becomes known as the loveliest of the city’s debutantes when she makes her entrance into Philadelphia society. Though her position in life is already assured, her true calling is on horseback. She can ride as well as any man and handle a rifle even better. But when a tragedy leads to a dramatic reversal of fortune, Lorinda is left orphaned, penniless, homeless, and pursued by the ruthless Black Hand mafia.

Rechristened “Etta Place” to ensure her safety, the young woman travels to the farthest reaches of civilization, working as a “Harvey Girl” waitress in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, fate intervenes once more and she again finds herself on the run from the ruthless Pinkerton Detective Agency. But this time she has company. She soon finds herself at the legendary hideout at Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, where she meets the charismatic Butch Cassidy and the handsome, troubled Harry Longbaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid. Through a series of holdups and heists, Etta and Harry begin an epic and ultimately tragic romance, which will be the greatest of Etta’s life. Then, when Etta meets the young and idealistic Eleanor Roosevelt, her life is changed forever.

Throughout reading this adventurous story, I had to keep reminding myself that most of it, even though some of the characters were real, never really happened. I was fully entertained by the antics of Etta and her cohorts in crime, but the fuzzy line between reality and fiction was always there. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book. I really did. The author makes it very clear in the back of the book what parts are from actual historical accounts and what he made up for the purpose of this debut novel.

The book is made up of narrative storytelling, diary entries supposedly written by Etta herself, telegrams and letters from various other characters and wanted posters with arrest warrants for the infamous bandits. All of this combined makes for a quick read and keeps the timeline of events clear to the reader.

For readers who enjoy stories from the wild west, like myself, this is a book you will be entertained by. For me, personally, I liked the author's storytelling and clever wit which kept this a light, sometimes humorous account of his vision for the tales of this most mysterious horsewoman.

Author: Gerald Kolpan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: March 2009
Pages: 336
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (I liked it)


  1. I'm looking forward to this one. I think my dad will like it too.

  2. In my reader the thumbnail is so tiny that I actually thought this book was about Etta James, the singer! LOL.

    I enjoy fiction that is based on fact as long as I know it up front. When I read Drood, and I can't remember if you read that one or not, much of it was based on fact but at the end I had a hard time figuring out which parts were real. I guess that is a sign that the author did a good job.

  3. sounds very good, great review.
    I havent read fiction based on a real person.

  4. Great job on the review! I think this sounds like a fun and interesting story. I like how they used all different types of writing, ie: diary entries to make it even more personal!!

  5. I grew up on tales of the wild west. My dad likes anything western. I'd love to give this one a read one of thesee days. Glad you liked it.

  6. I don't normally go for historical fiction, but this one sounds good.

  7. It sounds good, but whenever I read fiction based on real people, I spend too much time wondering what really happened and what the author made up and I end up distracted from the story. I have read a few historical novels based on real people that I have been good enough that I wasn't bothered by it.

  8. Thanks so much for the great review.

    I'm glad you enjoyed my work and I hope you'll visit the ETTA website: www.geraldkolpan.com. Lots more there.

    Gerald Kolpan
    Author of ETTA

  9. I like it when authors of historical fiction let you know what parts are fiction. It's really easy, especially when the book is well written, for it to feel like the complete truth. Sounds like an interesting book.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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