The Thieves of Summer


A mystery novel set in Depression-era Salt Lake City. What is happening to the children disappearing from Liberty Park?

June, 2014

SKU: 978-1-56085-227-8 Category: Tags: , Author: Linda SillitoeProduct ID: 1495


Set in Salt Lake City at the height of the Great Depression, Linda Sillitoe’s last novel opens with three little girls, eleven-year-old triplets, skipping in front of their house at 1300 South, across from Liberty Park. They giggle lightly as they chant:

Prin-cess Al-ice in Liberty Park
Munch-es ba-nan-as ’til way after dark.

Princess Alice is an elephant the children of Utah purchased by donating nickels and dimes to a circus. The girls don’t know this, but her handler takes the mammoth princess out on late-night strolls around the park when the moon is out. What they do know is that the elephant sometimes escapes and goes on a rampage, crashing through front-yard fences and collecting collars of clothesline laundry around her neck, a persistent train of barking dogs following behind. The girls’ father is a police officer who is investigating a boy’s disappearance. As the case unfolds, the perception of the park, with its eighty acres of trees and grass, will change from the epitome of freedom to a place to be avoided, even as Princess Alice moves to a secure confinement at a new zoo at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. The story is loosely based on the exploits of a real live elephant that lived in Liberty Park a decade before Sillitoe’s childhood in the neighborhood.

Linda Sillitoe was a reporter, activist, and prolific writer. She was the author of Friendly Fire: The ACLU in Utah; A History of Salt Lake County; and co-author with Allen D. Roberts of Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders. Her other works include Windows on the Sea (short stories), two novels: Sideways to the Sun and Secrets Keep. Poetry collections include Crazy for Living and, forthcoming, Owning the Moon. She passed away in 2010. The Thieves of Summer was her final work.

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2 reviews for The Thieves of Summer

  1. Ellen Fagg Weist, The Salt Lake Tribune

    For the last years of her life, Linda Sillitoe wrestled with multiple energy-sapping diseases, but because she was a writer, she devoted her energy to finishing her last novel, “The Thieves of Summer,” published posthumously last summer by Salt Lake City’s Signature Press.

    Sillitoe, a former Utah Holiday and Deseret News reporter, died in 2010 after publishing poetry, short stories, novels and local histories. She was most noted for her best-selling Utah crime book, 1988’s “Salamander: The Mormon Forgery Murders,” co-written with architect Allen Roberts.

    Set in Salt Lake City during the Great Depression, “Thieves of Summer” is the story of the five children in the Flynn family, whose police-detective father investigates cases of missing children. The family lives adjacent to Liberty Park, where the biggest attraction is a small zoo featuring an elephant named Princess Alice. That’s one of many elements in the novel that’s based on reality, as Salt Lake City schoolchildren really did donate their pennies to purchase an elephant.

    Like Andrew Hunt’s 2012 “City of Saints,” Sillitoe’s novel explores the darker side of historic Salt Lake City in the 1930s. The story moves quietly as it follows the family’s drama, while also exploring the motivations of a neighborhood pedophile. Along the way, Princess Alice plays a signifcant role in the unwinding of the story.

  2. Andrew Hamilton, Approaching Justice

    On April 7, 2010, Linda Sillitoe, one of the great voices of Utah and Mormonism, passed on to the next world. Sillitoe was a poet, an author, a journalist, and a renowned historian. Over the years she worked for or published in the “Deseret News,” the “Utah Holiday Magazine”, the “New York Times”, The “Philadelphia Inquirer”, “Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought”, “Utah Business”, “Sunstone”, “City Weekly” and the “Salt Lake City Observer”. She also wrote a well-known book on the Mark Hoffman case and was the recipient of many awards. Luckily for all of us, before she passed away, Sillitoe finished the manuscript for a short story that has now been published by Signature Books as “The Thieves of Summer”.

    I’m going to come right out and say it; I don’t usually like Mormon novels. The reason why I have not liked most of the Mormon fiction that I have read was described in detail in a talk that was given many years ago at BYU by Mormon author Orson Scott Card. The talk, later published in a book of essays, was titled “The Problem of Evil in Fiction.” In essence the talk discussed how as a culture Mormons often struggle to tell the difference between evil being depicted in fiction and evil being advocated or endorsed in fiction. A great example of this struggle occurred in 2002. Deseret Book, the main publisher and seller of LDS books, refused to stock a book by famed Mormon author Richard Paul Evans titled “The Last Promise”. One LDS supporter of Deseret Book’s decision wrote a letter to the editor that said:

    “White is white; black is black. But gray has so many shades! How many drops of black can be added to the white paint before we say, ‘That’s enough! This is too gray!’ Hurrah for Deseret Book — not one drop of black.”

    It seems to me that most Mormon authors, fearing this kind of reaction and banishment, write books where the “good” characters are unrealistically good and perfect and the “evil” are flat and unnuanced. There is no bad in the good, no good in the bad and never shall the twain meet. To me this creates characters and situations in mainstream Mormon fiction that are unrealistic and that I can in no way connect with, relate to, bond with, cheer for, however you want to put it. In “Thieves of Summer” Linda Sillitoe ignores all the Mormon fiction stereotypes, smashes down the walls of the genre, and lays waste to the Mormon fiction tropes that caused me to set down almost every previous Mormon work of fiction that I ever picked up. And in doing so she has created a wonderful, tightly woven book that I believe will delight and challenge any reader daring enough to pick it up.

    I will here provide a brief description of the plot to whet the appetite. The book is based *very* loosely on real events/people from Salt Lake’s past. For a time an elephant known as “Princess Alice” lived in Salt Lake’s Liberty Park in the area now occupied by the Tracy Aviary. “Princess Alice” is one of the major characters of the book. During her childhood, Sillitoe’s father was a police detective. During this time he helped to solve the murder of a young woman and was involved in the search for a young boy who disappeared. Sillitoe weaves the elephant, the murder, and the disappearance, along with the struggles of a working class Mormon family living during the depression into a story that keeps readers turning the pages until they finish. The main characters of “Thieves” are the Flynn family, consisting of eleven year old triplets Bethany, Annabel, and Carolee, their 15 year old sister Joyce, oldest child Glenn, his girlfriend Margie, mother Rose, and patriarch and police detective Evan. The novel takes place over the course of a summer that brings great changes to all of their lives.

    The book is called “Thieves of Summer” for a very important reason. While it does have an “evil” character, a “bad guy”, and while that character does steal something of the utmost importance, his is not the only thievery in the book. This is where that all-importance difference between this book and the “average” Mormon novel that I discussed earlier comes so strongly into play. In most Mormon fiction the Flynn family would be almost untouchable. Oh sure, they would have their challenges and they might have some superficial struggles, but most if not all of their problems would be solved by the end of the story and they would be off on their way to pose for the cover of the “Ensign” magazine at the book’s conclusion. Over the course of their summer the various members of the Flynn family are involved in or witness the thievery of clothes from a fashion store, virginity on a quiet summer’s night, the theft of a child, and even a ride on an elephant. As readers follow the Flynn’s through their hectic summer they will “meet the Mormons” that they live by and not just the ones that they read about in magazines or see on movie and television screens.

    One of the things that I really loved about “Thieves” is that while it is set in a summer of 1930’s Salt Lake City, and while it was completed before its author passed away 2010, the story reads as completely contemporary and relevant to discussions that are happening in Mormonism today. Over the last year or so in Mormonism there have been major discussions about the roles of Mormon women. A small but vocal number of Mormon women have complained during that time that in Mormon culture and teachings women are often made responsible for the morality, chastity, and behavior of men. This debate plays out in the story of Glenn and Margie when their young love affair leads to an unplanned pregnancy. Evan informs them that they will have to repent and reminds them that this process starts with a visit to their Mormon Bishop. The visit in the Bishop’s office is described in a way that fits right in to the very current Mormon modesty and chastity discussion:

    “It had been amusing that Darlene [Margie’s inactive mother] had acted as meek as a bunny even when the bishop intimated that this was all her daughter’s fault for not having set limits. Margie had not been impressed by that. For a minute Glenn thought she might tell the bishop that Glenn had planned it out and had even brought his bedroll when he came to see her, or that she might storm out of the bishop’s office and refuse to cooperate.” (p. 124)

    Such a description and reactions, as realistic as they are, would likely never be found in any other Mormon novel because the author would be too worried about upsetting or offending Mormon societal norms. But as the old saying goes, in this book Sillitoe breaks ground by going where others fear to tread.

    “Thieves of Summer” is the perfect capstone to Linda Sillitoe’s career. When interested readers purchase this book they not only get a fantastic story to read, they support a wonderful family, they support an independent Mormon publisher that is willing to break new ground, and, since this book is unlikely to be found on the shelves of any “mainstream” Mormon bookstores, the purchaser supports their local independent booksellers who add such an important part of the local economy. So please purchase a copy of this book and step into the world of the Flynn’s, Salt Lake City in the 1930’s, and into the world of the “magical” elephant known as “Princess Alice.”

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