Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Tenderness of Wolves: A Novel

Author: Stef Penney
Publisher/Format: Simon & Schuster (2008), 371 pages;
                               ISIS audiobooks: 14 discs- approx 14 hr, 45 min
Narrators: Sally Armstrong, Adam Sims
Characters: Francis Ross, Laurent Jammet, Donald Moody, William Parker
Subject: Murder, trade, wildlife, winter survival; Hudson Bay Trading Company
Setting: Canadian Wildnerness, mid 1800's
Genre: historical fiction; mystery
Source: public library

Stef Penny's debut work is a layered, multi-faceted, intricately woven story of love, betrayal, greed, murder, and survival.  Set in the frigid lands of northern Canada, the story revolves around the murder of a French trader, Laurent Jammet, and the search for his missing friend Francis Ross.  Did Francis kill him?  Is that why he hasn't been seen since Jammet's body was found?  Since both the victim and the missing boy are at least loosely connected to the Hudson Bay trading company, and since the company seems to have territorial jurisdiction over the area, the company's factors and magistrates undertake to determine what happened and why.

Central to the story is Francis' mother, Mrs. Ross (we never learn her first name), and she is a major narrator.  The other point of view comes in the third person from Donald Moody (the company's accountant), Francis himself, and from various Norwegian settlers who appear in about the middle of the book.

This one is a slow starter, but that pace allows the reader to absorb the many intertwined lives and facts needed to carry the story forward.  It is incredibly well-written.  In spite of the numerous story lines, and a large number of characters, all the characters are well defined, and the back stories fill out the plot as it marches inexorably to its climax. All along the reader experiences the bitter, numbing, killing cold, the blinding sun on snow, the howling wind, the soul squelching weather elements making life as barren as it was for both humans and animals.  Bleak landscapes are blended with human kindness, as well as greed and deceit to build the tension as the search moves further and further into the wilderness.  The ending is stunning, not unexpected but well portrayed and believable.

This is a masterful piece of storytelling, sure to please the outdoorsman, the romantic, and those who love a good mystery.  It came to my attention from the readers in the 75 book challenge on LibraryThing.


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