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.