I have to admit that I knew almost nothing about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid or Etta Place before watching the classic Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie about the three of them. It has been a few years since I’ve last experienced that movie but I remember coming away from it with a decent understanding of Butch and Sundance but a relatively poor feel for Etta Place and how she came to be the woman she was.
As it turns out, very little is known about the real Etta Place, neither her name, where she came from, nor what happened to her after Butch and Sundance were shot dead in South America. That she was said to be a beautiful woman with refined habits, an expert horsewoman, and an outlaw with a good heart add to the picture, but the details seem destined to remain forever out-of-reach. First-time novelist Gerald Kolpan now offers Etta, the perfect companion piece to the movie that reintroduced Etta to the world some forty years ago.
Free spirited Lorinda Jameson, daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia banker, becomes well acquainted with horses and rifles as a girl but it is only when her disgraced father leaves her penniless and on the run from his creditors that she abandons the city and her old name for a new life in the West where she will be known as Etta Place. Penniless, though she is known to be, her father’s creditors will not be satisfied until she is dead or, at the least, scarred for life. But Grand Junction, Colorado, does not turn out to be the safe haven she hopes for and, in the course of defending her honor, she makes a decision that earns her a date with the Grand Junction hangman.
On the run again, Etta throws in with Butch and Sundance’s Wild Bunch, becomes the Kid’s lover, and participates in many of the train and bank robberies that make them infamous. Kolpan’s account of Etta’s story includes newspaper clippings, entries from her personal diary and even an excerpt from a dime novel written about the New Jersey train robbery that she and the gang pulled off. Along the way, Etta has occasion to work for the colorful Buffalo Bill Cody as part of his Wild West Show cast and even becomes young Eleanor Roosevelt’s closest friend.
Gerald Kolpan is a good storyteller and this fast paced western adventure story is fun from start to finish, even for those who already know the end of the Butch and Sundance story. We will likely never know the real Etta Place but Kolpan has done her proud with this version of what might have been.
Rated at: 5.0
(Scheduled for a March 24, 2009 Release)