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I picked this up in Waterstones as part of a three for two deal, and I'm very glad I did. With 'The Tenderness of Wolves', Stef Penney has crafted a wonderful, thought-provoking novel, that is definitely a must-read.
As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a woman steels herself for the journey of a lifetime. A man has been brutally murdered and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. The violence has re-opened old wounds and inflamed deep-running tensions in the frontier township - some want to solve the crime, others seek only to exploit it.
To clear her son's name, she has no choice but to follow the tracks leaving the dead man's cabin and head north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it..."
**Plot** (minor spoilers)
The plot is on the surface very simple, but has many undercurrents of complexity. As stated in the blurb, this is a novel based around a murder, and the mystery that follows it. Who killed the trapper, Laurent Jammet? And why? What happened when the Seton girls disappeared fifteen years ago, and how is that related to present events?
There are a lot of plot threads in this book, and a lot of characters, but it never becomes confusing. We, along with one of the storytellers Mrs Ross, discover the body of the victim at the very start of the book, and from there the mystery unravels. Mrs Ross' son, Francis, has gone missing and suspicion soon falls upon him.
The men from the Company are called to the township to help track down the murderer, and two Company men are sent off into the forest on the trail of Francis. Soon after, a native American Indian man is found rooting around Laurent's house, and is arrested on suspicion of his murder.
All the while, Mrs Ross is becoming increasingly concerned for her son, and after the local Magistrate releases the suspect, Parker, she joins him on a journey into the North to try and find her son.
Alongside this main plot, there are many others, all of which tie in to the murder of Laurent Jammet. We are told the tale of Amy and Eve Seton, two young girls who disappeared fifteen years ago, and gradually we learn of their fate through a searcher named Thomas Sturrock. He too is connected with Laurent Jammet, interested in buying an engraved piece of ivory.
Other plots come into play as well: the Norweigan woman Line and her love for a married man; the budding romance between Susannah Knox and Donald Moody; the mysterious death of Napapanees, a native Indian...but all the plots are interconnected.
The book has two main narrative styles: first person and third person. The only parts of the book told in first person are those narrated by, and from the point of view of Mrs Ross. The rest, whilst in the point of view of various characters, are third person narratives.
Despite this, the book never becomes confusing and you are always aware of who is telling the story at any particular point.
The book moves at quite a sedentary pace, but is very readable and quite addictive: like many of the characters, you are anxious to find out who Laurent's murderer is, what secret Francis holds, and if we will ever find out what happened to the Seton girls.
There are a few threads of romance in the book, though these are lightly touched upon. One such thread concerns Mrs Ross and Parker, another the Company man Donald and finally the mystery of Francis Ross' forbidden love.
The conclusion of the book is at a slightly quicker pace, and unlike many other books, a lot of ends are left untied. However, this isn't unsatisfactory; the end is poignant and beautiful.
There is a wide cast of characters in this book, and despite there being so many, you feel very connected to a lot of them.
Mrs Ross is the main character, and as we see parts of the story from her perspective and in her words, we can identify with her the most. We never learn her first name, and this is something that becomes important in the story. As such, she is something of an enigma, despite the fact that we learn a lot about her past and present in the course of the book.
Jammet, despite being the murdered man, is also quite a prevalent character, because the story revolves around his death and his dealings whilst alive.
Francis Ross comes into the story quite late, though we have heard a fair bit about him by that time. He has a very interesting backstory, and a secret, which I had guessed before it was revealed.
Donald Moody is a Company man (The Company deals in the export of furs, working with the native Indians, but also on matters of the law, and searching), and a fair part of the book is from his viewpoint. He's an interesting character, one we never see beneath the surface of, and you really feel for him as he is only a man, trying to do his job, in a world of treachery and deceit.
Parker is silent and mysterious, an Indian with white-blood. He acts as Mrs Ross' guide, and as their story unfolds we see that they have a bond. He is quite heavily involved in the story, especially as it reaches its exciting climax.
There are of course, other characters, quite a few of whom we see parts of the book in their point of view, however I'll leave these to your discovery.
Author: Stef Penney
Price: £7.99 (RRP)
The Costa 2006 Book of the Year
I really enjoyed this book. Penney's writing is wonderful, and really pulls you into the story and location. When reading I could almost feel the freezing cold of the snow, the icy wind and the frozen ground, I felt sad when I found out the fate of certain characters, and relief at the fate of others.
The ending might leave you with a slight feeling of "so now what?", because the loose ends are left untied, and not everyone gets a happily ever after. Despite this, this is a book that has been beautifully written and crafted, down to the very last detail. I would definitely recommend.
It is 1867 in Canada. In an isolated settlement along the Dove River, a man is found brutally murdered in his cabin. There are two sets of tracks in the snow leading from the cabin - one of them must be those of the murdered man. Mrs Ross, one of the villagers, is particularly concerned, because she thinks one of the sets of footprints must belong to her son, who has not been seen since the murder. Determined to protect her son, she decides to follow the footprints wherever they may lead her. But the Canadian winters are harsh and she has little experience of travelling long-distance. Will she be able to find her son and prove his innocence? Or will she succumb to the bitter winter weather?
Having won the 2006 Costa First Book Prize, I was expecting something pretty good from this book. Fortunately, unlike so many other occasions, I wasn't disappointed. I was interested to see that, although this is the author's first book, she has written and directed films in the past. Writing a screenplay is very different from writing a book, but Penney has obviously managed to pull it off successfully in this case.
The book is written both from the point of view of Mrs Ross and from a series of other characters, including her son, the 'Company' man who believes her son is guilty of murder and characters that Mrs Ross comes across on her journey. Mrs Ross is the one that most interested me. As she tells her story, she mentions a period of time that she spent in an asylum before her marriage. Having had a breakdown myself, I am always interested in other people's experiences. Unfortunately, we are only told the bare basics - I think this character could have been more in depth than she was allowed to be. I would certainly have liked to find out more about her past.
The book is written in the present tense. On the whole, I am not a fan of books written in this tense - to me, it doesn't seem natural. However, in this case, it suits the whole tone of the book perfectly. There is a sense of immediacy about the prose that adds to the tense, cold atmosphere and the feeling that something is about to happen. The appearance of wolves from time to time in the story (hence the title) add to this beautifully.
The chapters are very short, mainly because the author has chosen to chop between telling the story from Mrs Ross' point of view and then various other characters. This is a sure fire way of keeping me involved in a book. Knowing that I am only a few pages away from the end of the next chapter encourages me to keep reading and although this book is quite a long one (in the region of 450 pages), I finished it in less than two days.
I did enjoy the story. Although it is obsensibly a murder mystery, in many ways, this is not the most important aspect of the book - it is more the story of a woman 'finding' herself whilst going on a long journey. However, the murder mystery part is intriguing and certainly adds a great deal to the book. More intrigue is added with the story of two young girls who went missing several years before and are believed to be either dead or residing with Indians. There are even a couple of love stories to keep those who like a bit of romance happy. The ending is slightly disappointing - I would have liked a bit more excitement, but then I read so much crime fiction that I am nearly always disappointed with the endings.
I really do recommend this book. The only flaws I found were the lack of more in depth characterisation on the part of the main character and the slightly disappointing ending, but the overall story and the way it is written more than make up for it. I can imagine this book being made into a film at some point - it would certainly make an eye-catching one. Highly recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £3.99. Published by Quercus, it has 466 pages. ISBN: 9781847240675