The Forty Elephants

Written by Erin Bledsoe
Review by Trish MacEnulty

If you have a weakness for lawless female characters, as I do, then this is the book for you. The Forty Elephants was my first beach read of the season, and I got a sunburn because I was so engrossed. Based on the true story of Alice Diamond and a gang of women shoplifters, this book takes place in the grittiest neighborhoods of 1920s London.

Alice is the daughter of the Mint’s ruling patriarch, but her father has been locked up, and she’s left trying to keep the criminal elements of the neighborhood free from the pervasive gangs and from the clutches of the police. She barely makes ends meet, robbing from her customers at the local nightclub and working as a maid for a wealthy theater producer and his tormented wife during the day. She plans to rob the theater producer but has a change of heart when she decides to protect his wife from his abuse. This impulse to protect others brings out the best and the worst in Alice. To protect her brother and pay off his debts, she joins a gang of women shoplifters even though she’s been raised to believe the worst of gangs. To protect her sister, she murders a man. She’s a natural leader who takes care of her own, but when she’s been crossed, she shows no mercy.

The book is written in a terse, hard-boiled style that suits the story perfectly. The tension is non-stop, and, while you might not want to have Alice over to your house for tea, you would surely want her at your side in a battle.