Stef Penney's mesmerizing debut novel, winner of Britain's Costa Book of the Year Award (formerly the Whitbread Award), entertains on several levels. The Tenderness of Wolves is in part a murder mystery, opening with the brutal killing of a French-Canadian trapper near Dove River, a small settlement in Canada's northern territory. It's also a historical family saga, focusing on Mrs. Ross, who discovers the murdered trapper, and who came to this remote part of Canada with her husband Angus from Scotland as part of the mid-19th-century Highland Clearances. They were two of countless immigrants who "fanned out from the landing stops at Halifax and Montreal like the tributaries of a river, and disappeared, every one, into the wilderness."
Mrs. Ross and Angus lost a baby daughter; they later adopted Francis, an Irish orphan, who is now 17 and "as much a stranger as ever" to his parents. His mother is worried, for Francis has been gone since the day of the murder. Constantly encompassing the novel's multilayered plot is the landscape itself—vast and unpopulated, with dangerously frigid temperatures and endless stretches of snow and ice—where first Mrs. Ross and a half-breed tracker, then two Hudson Bay Company men, set off to find Francis and the murderer, assuming they're not one and the same.
Penney is a Scottish screenwriter who has drawn this landscape so realistically that the reader feels he is accompanying her stoic characters—despite the fact that she has never traveled to Canada herself. She immersed herself in research at the British Library, and has sprinkled her captivating debut with such diverse characters as two young sisters who disappeared 15 years earlier; the "searcher" employed by their parents who is now obsessed with discovering evidence of a written Native language; and various Hudson Bay Company hangers-on, debilitated by drugs and drink as trapping profits have dwindled. Penney is at work on her second book. This one set in is Britain, and sure to be eagerly awaited by readers of this haunting mélange of mystery, history and adventure. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 May #2
British filmmaker Penney sets her intriguing, well-wrought novel in a 19th-century Canadian farming community up-ended by the murder of a lone fur trapper.In the town of Dove River on the north shore of Georgian Bay, a middle-aged farmer's wife we know only as Mrs. Ross discovers the body of French trapper Laurent Jammet, scalped and with his throat cut. The leaders of the community and the all-important Hudson Bay Company men gather to make sense of the killing, which revives sore memories of teenage sisters Amy and Eve Seton, who set out on a picnic 15 years before and never returned. Mrs. Ross is particularly concerned about Jammet's murder because 17-year-old Francis, an Irish orphan she and her husband took in when he was five, has not come home from a fishing trip. Suspicion falls on the boy, who was known to frequent Jammet's cabin. Several other characters emerge with ties to the dead man, including Toronto lawyer Thomas Sturrock, who comes sniffing around for an ancient marked bone that might prove of invaluable archaeological consequence, and shady half-Indian intruder William Parker, who traded with Jammett. The first-person account of Mrs. Ross alternates with sections concerning Francis, who's being nursed by the kindly Norwegian inhabitants of Himmelvanger after collapsing with exhaustion while following the trail of Jammet's murderer. His determined mother has set out to find him; other search parties also track Francis, as well as Parker, runaways from Himmelvanger, people lost in the snow and the killer. Penney offers numerous strings to untangle, but moments of love amid the gelid wastes add some warmth to her teeming, multi-character tale.Winner of the U.K. Costa Book of the Year award for 2006, a striking debut by a writer with tremendous command of language, setting and voice. Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2007 March #2
Just proclaimed winner of this year's Costa Book of the Year award, once the Whitbread Prize, this debut tracks a teenager's disappearance in 19th-century Canada's snowy north after murder has been committed in his -settlement. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2007 May #1
The publisher was excited about this British debut even before it was proclaimed the U.K. Costa Book of the Year (the former Whitbread Book Award), and the excitement was not misplaced. Daringly, the author sets her work in Canada's frigid northern territory in the 19th century. As winter closes in on tiny Dove River, Mrs. Ross stumbles into the cabin of mysterious neighbor Laurent Jammet and finds him murdered. Distressingly, her son Francis, something of an outsider himself, disappears at the same time. Francis is conveniently suspected of the deed, and the Company (which runs just about everything in this neck of the woods) sends Donald Moody to investigate. New to Canada, Donald struggles to find his way among the hardened settlers. Then another man, clearly native, is spotted in Jammet's cabin, arrested and beaten, and mysteriously released. In the ensuing mayhem, no one seems to have considered Mrs. Ross's devotion and resilience--she's gone to find her son. Plot summary cannot do justice to this complex and engrossing tale of human passion and folly, highlighted by the rigors of a wilderness being systematically despoiled. The characters are distinctive, their portraits startling and incisive, and the writing is fluid and beautifully detailed. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/07.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal[Page 74]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
The frigid isolation of European immigrants living on the 19th-century Canadian frontier is the setting for British author Penney's haunting debut. Seventeen-year-old Francis Ross disappears the same day his mother discovers the scalped body of his friend, fur trader Laurent Jammet, in a neighboring cabin. The murder brings newcomers to the small settlement, from inexperienced Hudson Bay Company representative Donald Moody to elderly eccentric Thomas Sturrock, who arrives searching for a mysterious archeological fragment once in Jammet's possession. Other than Francis, no real suspects emerge until half-Indian trapper William Parker is caught searching the dead man's house. Parker escapes and joins with Francis's mother to track Francis north, a journey that produces a deep if unlikely bond between them. Only when the pair reaches a distant Scandinavian settlement do both characters and reader begin to understand Francis, who arrived there days before them. Penney's absorbing, quietly convincing narrative illuminates the characters, each a kind of outcast, through whose complex viewpoints this dense, many-layered story is told. (July)[Page 37]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.