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The Tenderness of Wolvesby Stef Penney
Synopses & Reviews
A brilliant and breathtaking debut that captivated readers and garnered critical acclaim in the United Kingdom, The Tenderness of Wolves was long-listed for the Orange Prize in fiction and won the Costa Award (formerly the Whitbread) Book of the Year.
The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner.
A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man's cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. It is Mrs. Ross's knock on the door of the largest house in Caulfield that launches the investigation. Within hours she will regret that knock with a mother's love — for soon she makes another discovery: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect.
In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the crime and to the township — Andrew Knox, Dove River's elder statesman; Thomas Sturrock, a wily American itinerant trader; Donald Moody, the clumsy young Company representative; William Parker, a half-breed Native American and trapper who was briefly detained for Jammett's murder before becoming Mrs. Ross's guide. But the question remains: do these men want to solve the crime or exploit it?
One by one, the searchers set out from Dove River following the tracks across a desolate landscape — home to only wild animals, madmen, and fugitives — variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.
In an astonishingly assured debut, Stef Penney deftly weaves adventure, suspense, revelation, and humor into an exhilarating thriller; a panoramic historical romance; a gripping murder mystery; and, ultimately, with the sheer scope and quality of her storytelling, an epic for the ages.
"Stef Penney, who in an even more unusual coup, won the first novel prize with a murder saga, The Tenderness of Wolves. The (Costa) judges said it made them feel "enveloped in the snowy wastes" of Canada in 1867. Penney, agoraphobic at the time, did all her research in the British Library." The Guardian
"Confident and complex portrait of 1860s Ontario. . . . 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. . . . This one is a powerhouse." Books of Canada
"An original and readable mixture of mystery and history, with a good dollop of old-fashioned adventure." The Times (London)
"A fascinating, suspense-filled adventure, a refreshing contrast to the conventional murder mystery." The Sunday Telegraph (London)
"An entertaining, well-constructed mystery . . . sexy, suspenseful, densely plotted storytelling . . . a novel with far greater ambitions than your average thriller, combining as it does the themes of Conrad's Heart of Darkness with Atwood's Survival, and lashing them to a story that morphs Ian Rankin with The Mad Trapper of Rat River." The Globe and Mail (Canada)
"A quite remarkable debut novel set in the snowy backwoods of Canada in 1867 . . . atmospheric and delicately written mystery."Birmingham Post
"Penney's descriptions of the harsh landscape and the deprivation of living there are vivid and excellent." The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
"The novel works itself up to a blizzard of a climax wherein most of the mysteries — murderous, romantic, filial and sexual 7#151; are solved. There's history, adventure, wit, and suspense. It's no surprise that The Tenderness of Wolves won Britain's Costa Book of the Year in 2006. Americans should also love this book." Philadelphia Inquirer
"The author is a recovering agoraphobic. And she claims to have never set foot in Canada. The latter is a remarkable fact, considering what a vivid sense of place Penney has provided, and certainly speaks to the author's imaginative talents. But the former hints at the novel's underlying power. Canada is only a metaphor for a far more isolated and lonely setting: the human soul." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[An] elegiac musing on the nature of isolation." Christian Science Monitor
"[A] first-class murder mystery, which must be doubly commended considering that the setting and the time." St. Petersburg Times
About the Author
Stef Penney was born and grew up in Edinburgh. After earning a degree in philosophy and theology from Bristol University, she turned to filmmaking, studying film and TV at Bournemouth College of Art. On graduation she was selected for the Carlton Television New Writers Scheme. She is a screenwriter. The Tenderness of Wolves is her first novel.
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