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)
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Mysteries also dominate this confident and complex portrait of 1860s Ontario. Although Stef Penney, an agoraphobic, lives in Edinburgh, she is the grandniece of Norman Bethune. The characters and lives she creates-consulting Hudsons Bay Company records from the British Museum-attain a larger-than-life dimension. Our only first-person narrator, an aloof woman with a history of confinement in Scottish asylums, is Mrs. Ross, who discovers the bloodied corpse of Laurent Jammet, a French trapper and trader. Soon the local magistrate, various Hudsons Bay Company investigators, and acquaintances of the deceased-including a native Canadian and a man very interested in something Jammet has acquired-are popping in and out of the narrative with an assortment of goals in mind.
Closer to home is the problem of Mrs. Rosss teenaged son, the troubled Francis, who vanished the night of the murder. Francis at first tops the list of suspects, but is soon replaced by William Parker, a taciturn native who knew the slain man. When her son doesnt return, Mrs. Ross takes off to find him with Parker as her guide. Penney creates an engrossing narrative, connecting the dots across different social strata in the colony. Eerily adept at depicting a range of human traits-and hinting at more-she also teases us with an older mystery, the disappearance of two young girls from the Georgian Bay community several years before.
Between twists and turns of plot, Penney evokes the land-its shades of light and changes of weather, its marshes and treacherous waters. Rarely has winter seemed so febrile. One strange northern community gives way to the next-from a settlement of pious Norwegians to a decayed outpost peopled by those whom the Company has seen fit to exile. Something rather Conrad-like surfaces in the portrait of Mr. Stewart, the Company man gone bad. Yet masculine and feminine elements are fully balanced; theres not only the complicated Mrs. Ross and her tormented son, but also a sensual Norwegian widow named Line, determined to escape the sanctuary she has found with her fellow countrymen. This one is a powerhouse. Nancy Wigston
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada
'"The Tenderness of Wolves" is a brilliant novel about people living on the fringes, both literally and figuratively. Penney has artfully blended warmth and poetic austerity. I loved it.' -- Paul Quarrington, author of "Galveston" and "Whale Music"
'A richly detailed mystery that brings the isolation of the Canadian North vividly to life ... Stef Penney is clearly a talented writer...' -- Quill & Quire
'I now believe in reincarnation. Stef Penney was clearly, undeniably, once a settler in the harsh pre-Cambrian Shield that runs across this country ... like a spine. She has captured the terror, the loneliness, the hope and even the way winter light falls on the edge of the lake. "The Tenderness of Wolves" is an unnerving book, brilliantly executed, and could only have been written by someone who was actually there, taking careful notes.' -- Roy MacGregor, author of "A Life in the Bush" and "The Weekender"
'Stef Penney's debut is written with wicked clarity and beauty. Part mystery, part historical drama,"The Tenderness of Wolves" is a tale as crisp and driven as Georgian Bay snow. One of the most assured and memorable debuts I've had the fortune to read.' -- Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road
'Tender is Ms. Penney's talent, carrying a village of characters - and ultimately the reader into mystery, history, and the wilderness of being human. A fine and compelling book.' -- Seth Kantner, author of "Ordinary Wolves"