The Tenderness of Wolves

Written by Stef Penney
Review by Geraldine Perriam

If I had to review this book in six words, it would be “Stop everything and read this novel.” It is set in the remote Canadian settlement of Dove River in 1867. In a landscape of snow and ice, a trapper named Jammet is found murdered in his cabin by Mrs Ross, the wife of a settler. The Hudson’s Bay Company employees arrive to investigate. Mrs. Ross’s seventeen-year-old son is missing and there are others on the trail of the murderer, including Jammet’s friend and fellow trapper, William Parker. Mrs Ross and Parker set out across the snow together but with different intentions. Back in Dove River, various inhabitants are affected by the upheaval of the murder, and the narrative moves between Dove River and the journey northwards.

The writing has a beautiful wintry spareness and the swift undercurrent of a tense and urgent narrative. The characters are portrayed warts and all, but with sensitivity and an understanding of the complexity of human motives and aspirations. And the landscape matters, as it should! Although the plot does become a little (and I mean just a little) disjointed towards the centre of the book, it is soon ironed out. The interaction between Mrs Ross and William Parker is finely tuned and compelling, a superb lesson to all writers in conveying much with very few words.

Lastly and most importantly, it is a thoroughly good story. My favourite novel of 2006.