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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.

Blending a compelling love story, high adventure, and thrilling historical drama, Etta is an electrifying novel. With a sweeping 1900s setting, colorful storytelling, and larger-than-life characters, Etta is debut that is both captivating and unforgettable.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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Gerald Kolpan

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5 stars
146 (17%)
4 stars
311 (37%)
3 stars
257 (31%)
2 stars
81 (9%)
1 star
29 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 212 reviews
Profile Image for Amy.
197 reviews34 followers
February 20, 2009
I really wanted to love this book.
It had everything going for it – a gun toting kick ass heroine, a historical mystery, my favorite genre (historical fiction), my favorite time period, and even a preferred historical fiction style of mixed media – journal entries, newspapers, and straight up fiction.
Only a little bit into the book, I conceded to myself that the dialogue was a little flat, but at least the action was interesting and the character of Etta had potential. While it might not be as amazing as I thought it would be – at least it would be an entertaining read.

Yet by the end of the book, I hated the piece and had to force myself to finish. The writing style is sloppy and uneven and the author actually manages to make the characters boring (which, considering the wealth of history associated them, is quite a feat). The characters are all shallow and under developed and the author’s constant harping on Etta’s beauty over shadowed anything else redeeming about the character. Beyond mentioning Etta’s beauty every other page for the entire book, Kolpan simply fails at providing a proper feminine perspective. I have read some amazing works by men who really get how their female lead character thinks, acts, and feels. It is possible for a man to write a female lead character. Kolpan apparently can not, or at least not yet in his development as a novelist. Etta comes off as nothing more than a shallow beauty with no complex emotions or inner conflict – simply written to fill in Kolpan’s fantasy about the mysterious girlfriend of the Sundance Kid.

The other notably irritating thing that Kolpan does is try to fit an ungodly amount of famous historical characters into one work. Eleanor Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Trotsky, and even Alfred Stieglitz all make appearances. Really? The Annie Oakley thing would have worked, because of the similarities. Maybe even the whole Roosevelt thing (Eleanor making a pass at Etta prompted an eye roll, the author’s emphasis on Eleanor’s “horse faced smile” and the over emphasized contrast between Eleanor and Etta in the beauty department was totally unnecessary) could be fudged. But all of them? In one story? Please.

I can fully appreciate the mindless read – I indulge in crappy fantasy and romance novels occasionally just because that’s what is needed, a mindless, entertaining read. So if Etta had been just that, it would have made three stars. But when it comes to writing quality and character development, Etta falls so far short that it isn’t even worth the nod as a mindless, entertaining read. Not recommended.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,170 reviews
October 8, 2010
I absolutley loved every page of this book and wished it was 500 pages instead of 300. Historical fiction based on facts of "Etta", the girlfriend of The Sundance Kid (of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame). Great story telling starting in 1898 Philadelphia going on to Grand Junction, Colorado and ending in New York City. The author makes you feel like you are riding on the horse behind her. Was glad to finish it only in the fact that I couldn't get anything else done but read this book!
Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews289 followers
February 15, 2009
Raised in the lap of luxury by her adoring father, eighteen-year-old Lorinda Jameson gets the shock of her life when she's left orphaned and with a mountain of debt - including huge gambling debts to the Black Hand mafia, who are determined to kill or maim anyone who can't repay. A family friend arranges for Lorinda to travel west and take employment as a Harvey girl, and now going by the name of Etta Place she serves meals to diners in Grand Junction Colorado. Everything goes well in her new life until the son of the local mine baron lusts after the beauteous Etta and she ends up imprisoned and convicted of murder. Friends break her out of jail and she finds herself in the midst of the Hole-in-the-wall gang and the rest is history (well sort of).

I really like the whole concept of telling the "what if" story of Etta, as so little is known about her and I very much enjoyed the first half of the book, but the second half kind of fell apart in the believability factor. I won't get into spoilers, but the relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt in particular was quite a stretch especially without any real documentation to back it up, as well as Sundance's changed political views once they went to Argentina.

All in all an entertaining, albeit light read. The characters of Butch Cassidy, Sundance and his beloved Etta and the dastardly evil Kid Curry (although I did have a hard time reconciling him to the Kid in that beloved TV Show Alias Smith and Jones) were all good fun, as well as the never-give-up Pinkerton detective Siringo. Like a couple other reviewers, I do feel that some editing on the sentence structure would well advised, although my real quibble is the use of news articles, Etta's diary, letters to give the story a feel of "real history" and move the story along were very distracting and upset the flow of the book. I'd have preferred to leave those out and just focus on the story through the POV of Etta and Sundance, but then that's just my opinion and why I'm giving it three instead of four stars. A good first outing though for this author, and I'm curious to see what he'll write about next.
20 reviews
March 3, 2010
Great potential that simply fell short... I was very interested until about half way through then I had to force myself to go further. I even enjoyed a little bit here and there, but really I found there to be too many stories that mad little sense all thrown together. More of an awww how beautiful Etta is, what a nice thief, how kind, thoughtful, and beautiful. blah blah blah... Just when you thought there would be great description of scenery and emotion and building of characters... you get lame descriptions and you have to completely make everything up for yourself...
Profile Image for Pam.
588 reviews8 followers
June 19, 2020
This was a fun page turning escape!
Profile Image for Todd Stockslager.
1,674 reviews25 followers
June 5, 2015
Acceptable career-starter

Almost nothing is known for certain about the true history of Etta Place (probably not her real name), who was the amour of Harry Longbaugh, the Sundance Kid who famously, with Butch Cassidy, was the leader of the outlaw Hole in the Wall Gang at the turn of the 20th century as the Wild West was being reined in by iron horses and barbed wire fences. Her real name, her birthplace, her family, her occupation, her history after Butch and Sundance died in a South American shootout, are all subjects of speculation with minimal historical documentation.

So rookie writer Kolpan uses this fertile ground for fictional imagination to create a backstory for Etta. He places her as the inheriting daughter of a once-wealthy Philadelphia widower--who is in hock to the Italian Black Hand mafia when he commits suicide. The Black Hand is sworn to collect its debts or make the debtor, the tall, stunningly beautiful young society girl who used her spare time and wealth to fuel her love for horses, pay with more than money.

While certainly melodramatic, perhaps too much so, at least Kolpan has given her a name, a history, a birthplace--and a motive for changing her name, and moving as far from the East as the West.....where she encounters more fanciful adventures that turn her into an outlaw, bring her into the sphere of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and give her the chance to exercise her skills as a horsewoman and sharpshooter.

The story unfolds through a mix of newspaper stories, Pinkerton "Wanted" memos, Etta's diary entries, and third-person narrative. This framing technique enables Kolpan to keep the story boiling along at a brisk pace.

A couple of first-time-out problems with the book, in addition to the sometimes overheated melodrama mentioned earlier:

There is a tendency, engaged by too many historical fiction writers, to give their fiction historicity by having their fictional or lesser known historical characters serendipitously meet and interact with well-known and documented historical characters, here Eleanor Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, and even Leon Trotsky. I get the reasoning behind the contacts, but placing such unbelievable events at the core of the story weakens the narrative.

Writing good fiction, as I have observed in reviewing other debut efforts recently, is not as simple as it seems, and one place this shows in Kolpan's effort is continuity problems. The most glaring: A Pinkerton agent is recorded as standing before an irate client motionless to show both his external respect for the client and his internal rage at being dressed down, but just a paragraph later (on the same page) the Pinkerton agent is said to shift in his seat. Little details like that are what make or break the veracity of a fiction and make us willing believers in the fiction.

Overall, though, Kolpan shows enough skill to keep the reader's interest, and Etta is a worthwhile career-starter.
Profile Image for Andrea Dowd.
583 reviews5 followers
April 30, 2009
I won this book on GoodReads--thanks so much!

"Etta" is the imagined tale of an actual woman. Etta Place ran around with Butch Cassidy and was the "wife/partner" of the Sundance Kid. Then, she disappeared and now one knew anything else about her or her life. There is a ton of speculation about who and where this woman was, so what's a person to do but make up something super cool about her?

And that's what Gerald Kolpan did with "Etta". Etta is Lorinda Jamison, Philly socialite who is left orphaned and threatened after the death of her father. With the help of a family friend, she takes off to the West, where she gets into some trouble and eventually is embraced into the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang's way of life.

The story nicely weaves in elements of cowboy literature, gunslingers, robbery, murder, and the struggle for women's equality throughout. The novel has numerous facets that allow us to see into the world of Pinkerton's, evil men, and citizens through diary entries, news clippings, telegrams, and person accounts. If you don't like to read Westerns, this book gives you The West without overpowering the reader. If you know very little about outlaws during the early 20th century, "Etta" will give you great little nuggets that will make you want to do your own research (Pinkerton's sound so awesome to me!).

The only negative that I have for this book (and it is the reason that I was only mildly entertained) was that the author made his main character too perfect, there is no true flaw in this woman. Even though Etta kills a man (I didn't give anything away, I swear), it was in self-defense. Even though Etta becomes a criminal, she's so polite and politically correct about it. Even though Etta is separated from her love, she never strays. Even when she is orphaned by her alcoholic father and left with massive debts, she forgives him immediately. The trouble seems to be that when you basically get to create a mythology behind a real person, you aggrandize them beyond reality.

I like my character's with flaws or even quirks-Etta has none. So, I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes strong-willed woman and a little bit of a history lesson with their stories.
Profile Image for Noe Crockett.
121 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2009
Not that I'm well-versed on outlaws of the Old West, but I do know a little and I had never heard of Etta Place. Apparently she was a female outlaw who ran with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but little is known about her.

The author of this novel took what little is known about her and filled in the blanks with fiction. The book bounces around between traditional storytelling, Etta's journal entries, newspaper articles and letters from the Sundance Kid to his father. The format makes it really easy to read and kept me from getting bored. There were a few parts where I felt like I was watching scenes in a movie, they were so well-described. And the inclusion of Eleanor Roosevelt into the story was VERY interesting.

I would give this book three and a half stars, but once again that isn't possible so I settled for three. I may go on an Old West kick now and start reading more from that time period.
Profile Image for Kristen Harvey.
2,075 reviews262 followers
January 1, 2010
There is a ton in this book and I ended up listening to it on audible, despite having a print copy of the ARC. I am a huge fan of adventure novels - especially ones with strong female characters. That is EXACTLY what this book is.. an adventure novel with all sorts of adventures. A historical fiction about Etta Place - a real woman who was part of the Wild Bunch.

I really made up some serious excuses to listen to this novel. I loved the romance, the suspense and really the time period in which this book was written. It's nice to be completely transported into a different time - one where you toted guns, robbed banks, and swindled people out of their money - well, at least some did.

Definitely one of those novels that will stick with you and an adult novel - so beware young readers of the more adult scenes.
Profile Image for Sarah H.
144 reviews
June 10, 2013
Inventive and imaginative historical fiction. Etta Place--sweetheart of the Sundance Kid--doesn't have much of a bona fide biography, so Kolpan invents one and seems to have had a great time doing so. Nasty outlaws, honorable cowboys, Pinkerton detectives, scary Mafioso precursors and a dizzying variety of historical figures (Buffalo Bill to Trotsky) cartwheel through the book--and it all works. A fun summer read.
Profile Image for Wanda.
53 reviews
November 5, 2010
I didn't like this book quite as well as Karen but was still a good read. Karen was right in that it would make a wonderful movie and I pick Angelina and Brad Pitt for the stars!
751 reviews
March 26, 2023
Exciting historical fiction audiobook with a great narrator. The sketchy details of the life of Etta Place, outlaw and paramour of Harry "Sundance Kid" Longbaugh, are imaginatively filled in by first-time novelist Kolpan in this winning tale of the Wild West. After her wealthy father's disgrace and demise, Etta departs Philadelphia society and heads west to become a Harvey Girl on the railroad in Colorado, where a series of misadventures leads her to the Hole-in-the-Wall gang. Romanced by Longbaugh and the fugitive lifestyle, Place earns an integral part in the gang through her shooting and riding skills as well as her beauty and sophistication. Pursued by the police, Pinkertons, the Black Hand and rival desperado Kid Curry, Etta and the Sundance Kid make their way across the country, diving from one daring adventure to another.
Profile Image for Samantha.
37 reviews8 followers
August 28, 2020
Etta was just ok.

The good:
I did not know much about Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch prior to reading this book, but there were several times I found myself taking to google to find out what was history vs fiction. I found myself going down the internet rabbit hole to find out more. I learned a lot, which I enjoyed.

Also, since there's virtually nothing known about the real Etta Place, Kolpan decided his heroine was from Philadelphia. As a native Philadelphian who has lived here my whole life, I have a soft spot for books that take place in/have characters from Philly.

It's an easy read.

The bad:
The writing was fine; nothing spectacular.

The writer is clearly a man trying to narrate from a woman's perspective. He doesn't always succeed and generally comes off as juvenile.
Profile Image for Jodi.
97 reviews
September 26, 2023
I'm late on this one--I thought about reading it when it first came out but didn't. Glad I went back to it. Great fantasy tale. Etta a rich girl who is hunted and takes up with the wild bunch? Sundance a man of the people who supports the people in his commune in South America? Despite the odd situations the characters were placed in the writing flows, and the characters are three-dimensional and interesting. I would have gone a five except for the kiss between Eleanor and Etta--it's been rumored for years that Eleanor was gay--who knows(or cares) whether or not it's true? Still, there was no reason for this book to go there. Also, I kept hoping there would be more Butch Cassidy. All these stories are better when there is more Butch.
Profile Image for Sherrill.
263 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2017
So the author took poetic license and after watching the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid he wove a story line that was pretty incredible. Etta is sent by her father's lawyer to be a Harvey Girl because he fears for her life. She ends up the lover of Sundance Kid and becomes his common law wife. She also works for a while for the Buffalo Bill Cody show and finds an Indian girl whom she adopts. In the end I am unclear if she killed herself because of Sundance or if she just rode off into the sunset. She had the attention of a pretty great man. All in all it was a fantastic read
Profile Image for Linda.
535 reviews
September 30, 2019
I stopped on page 102, asking myself why I was still reading if I kept skimming ahead. I would've liked this so much better if it hadn't been based on a real person. I kept thumbing back to the picture at the front of the real Etta, wondering what she'd make of the extreme liberties (almost no information whatsoever is available on her life) taken in this book of her story. I felt uncomfortable for the real Etta. I love historic fiction but SO MUCH of this story is speculation. It didn't feel honest to me.
1,086 reviews8 followers
April 12, 2019
There are very few known details about Etta Place, the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid. This novel tries to flesh out those details. Unfortunately, there's a lot of fictional stuff that seems pretty implausible to me. Etta and Eleanor Roosevelt become besties??? I don't think so. Still, it's an interesting book and I appreciate the author's note in the back that explains what's real and what he made up.
Profile Image for Wendy.
247 reviews14 followers
May 6, 2017
If your looking for Etta Place, Eleanor Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, Chales Siringo, Picasso, among others, and of course Butch and Sundance, then this is the book for you! A little too many historical figures conveniently placed in this saga.
Profile Image for Bobby  Title.
312 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2017
If a little is good, a lot is better....WRONG!

IMHO, it should have stopped in the middle. I should have, and almost did -- but hoping for the best, I struggled on. It was unnecessary.

But the first half, I admit, was fun.
Profile Image for Carol L Cridge.
132 reviews8 followers
January 19, 2020
What a lovely jaunt through history and the wild west. Loved it. What mystery surrounded Etta and what is left to the imagination only heightens this magical journey. Gritty, and sad but well worth reading.
Profile Image for Tara Page.
156 reviews
October 7, 2021
very enjoyable

The story grabbed me right from the start. Characters and personalities developed nicely and he relationships were done well. Fun to imagine. Being from Philadelphia, I also appreciated the references to that area. Fun read!
Profile Image for Rachel Schwantes.
103 reviews1 follower
May 4, 2023
I’m not finishing, quit at 40%. I find it lacking in depth which is really too bad because the idea had so much potential!

Also wondering if the author has ever really been to Grand Junction, Colorado…🤨 I would only describe the Bookcliffs as “terra cotta” during a sunset.
Profile Image for Kelly.
44 reviews
March 21, 2019
Started strong, powerful, beautiful, then midway the wheels fell off the cart. 😥
March 4, 2020
Very believable

Fascinating story. Wish the author had reunited Sundance and Etta as there is now a doubt that he and Butch were killed in Bolivia. But overall a great read.
480 reviews
November 4, 2022
Was fun to read this fictionalized account of the real woman about whom so little is known. Enjoyed Butch and Sundance, and even Eleanor Roosevelt's roll in the story. Well done.
Profile Image for Nichole.
60 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2023
Great historical fiction about a woman I had never heard of.
18 reviews
March 13, 2017
I listened to it on CD and there was a wonderful narrator who had a great many voices. It was entertaining, well-read, and dynamic to the end. It was historic fiction, but the story was too well rounded to be based on a true story of one person. However, it was wonderfully woven together and entangled many known figures of the era, 1899-1910. Elinor Roosevelt and her charitable works, the climate of Pinkerton detectives and their methods, Butch Cassidy and
Edgar Longbow (Sundance Kid), pristine Harvey Girls who served meals in the west at railroad towns, travel by rail, unscrupulous rich and powerful bankers, railroad men, loan sharks, etc., The Wild Bunch and Etta Place who held up trains, stole from the rich to give to the poor, Teddy & Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Cody and Annie Oakley's Wild West Show. It conveyed a wide range of lifestyles at the turn of the century as well as the indominable spirit of one young woman.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
5,258 reviews195 followers
December 30, 2008
There hasn’t been much information known about Etta Place, the girlfriend of Harry “The Sundance Kid” Longbaugh. So when author, Gerald Kolpan, first heard about this, he became very intrigued and began to research all he could about Etta Place.

Mr. Kolpan’s first novel, Etta is a fictional story of just who Kolpan imagined Etta Place might have been and where she came from.

Lorinda Reese Jameson was born to a banker and his wife. When she was just eighteen years old, her father took his own life. Lorinda left the streets of Philadelphia. She arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she started her job as a Harvey girl as well as her new life as Etta Place. She was a waitress, working in the hotel; serving passengers as they made their way along the train. Soon Etta finds herself a wanted woman and one of the first to make a brief stay in the Grand Junction jail.

It is not long after she escapes that she makes her way to Hole in the Wall. There she joins up with The Wild Bunch gang, run by leaders…Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Soon, Etta, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are running wild through the great outdoors of the West.

I am a fan of the westerns and historical novels. So when I read Etta, you can bet I was delighted with joy that I got the best of both worlds all rolled up into one amazing novel. Mr. Kolpan has such a wonderful imagination and a talent for bring it to life within the pages of this story. Right away I was drawn. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I ended up finishing this book in one sitting. Being from Grand Junction myself and reading Etta Place’s brief stint there was fun to read about. The letters Harry would write to his father in addition to the diary entries of Etta’s added a nice touch to the story. I have recommended to all my friends to check out Etta. Mr. Kolpan has gone down in my books as a must read author.
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