Book Review for “The Forty Elephants” by Erin Bledsoe.
Summary: “Inspired by the true story of Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants, the first all-female gang of London. London in the 1920s is no place for a woman with a mind of her own. Gang wars, violence, and an unforgiving world have left pickpocket Alice Diamond scrambling to survive in the Mint, the gritty neighborhood her family has run for generations. When her father goes to jail yet again and her scam artist brother finds himself in debt to the dangerous McDonald crime syndicate, Alice takes over. Fighting for power at every turn, she struggles to protect her father’s territory and keep the people she loves safe from some of London’s most dangerous criminals. Recruited by the enigmatic Mary Carr, Alice boldly chooses to break her father’s edict against gangs and become part of a group of notorious lady shoplifters, the Forty Elephants. Leaving the Mint behind, she and the other girls steal from the area’s poshest department stores, and for the first time in her life, Alice Diamond tastes success. But it’s not long before she wants more–no matter the cost. And when her past and present collide, there’s no escaping the girl from the Mint.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical; UK – London; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Debut Novel, Crime.
This novel was “inspired by the true story of Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants, the first all-female gang of London.” Now, apparently, this is one of those historical figures that is taking over the limelight for a bit. I already know of one novel published last year in the UK, which will be released in the US this coming January. Then there will be another one coming out probably later next year which I know is in the works right now. Now, I already know that each of these books look at this woman from different angles, which is truly a good thing. This book focuses on Alice’s origin story, so I’m glad I’m reading it now, before the other two are fully out there.
You will note that this is a debut novel by Bledsoe, and I really must admit that I’m very impressed by it. I certainly found the story very nicely plotted out, with just the right number of twists and conflicts sprinkled along the way, to keep my interest. Furthermore, this is a very fast read (by my standards, in any case), because it is so interesting. Plus, the narrative is almost stark, which I believe Bledsoe did on purpose – mostly to show off how harsh life was in the poverty stricken, post-Great War era of London. I think she also did this to show us Alice’s harder side, even though we almost immediately realize that despite her rough and tumble toughness, she’s also got a heart (which would be a cliché if she was a prostitute).
Obviously, I never knew anything about this woman or this female gang of what they call “collectors” – their euphemism for shop lifters and pick pockets. So that was my initial draw to this book. I’ll also admit that the cover, which I think is splendid, was also a big draw. There’s something about those 1920s bobbed haircuts that have always drawn me to this era of history. Plus, all the cream with the accents of the black hair and purple in the clothes, well, I found it very attractive. Of course, if Alice hadn’t been a fascinating character, all of that would have been for naught. Thankfully, the cover didn’t misrepresent what’s inside. Interestingly enough, Bledsoe doesn’t describe Alice’s looks much in this novel, but I’m guessing that she was actually pretty attractive, especially when she had the backing to get “dolled up” as she does when she joins Mary Carr’s gang.
The question is, how much did Bledsoe succeed in making me feel sympathy for Alice? This, I think, is one of few things I can’t say this novel did for me. Yes, I admired Alice for her spunk, intelligence, and talents, but despite Bledsoe’s attempts to show her softer side, I’m not totally sure I liked Alice very much, even when she does good things for one of the other characters. Still, she isn’t the antagonist here, but she’s not a loveable protagonist either. That said, I truly enjoyed reading of her exploits and how she came to be known as a queen of thieves when she took over the leadership of the Elephants. I can easily recommend this novel, and I think it deserves a very health four stars out of five. That also means I’ll be on the lookout for more books by Bledsoe in the future! (And… I may be wrong about this, but I got the distinct feeling at the end of this novel that this could be the beginning of a series.)
Blackstone Publishing “The Forty Elephants” by Erin Bledsoe on August 23, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.