The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney won the Costa Book of the Year Winner in 2006. Trust me on this one: there is not a character in this book who would not have wolfed down a big old cup of Costa coffee at any point in this novel.
At the time I am writing this, it is February and the Midwest is suffering another one of the arctic chills that have plagued us for this entire winter. It is time for the monthly crime fiction discussion and I picked this novel without the knowledge that it was going to be a challenge for winter weary readers like us.
No matter, this historical novel is that good. The basic plot of this novel is that Mrs. Ross’s son Francis is suspected of having murdered their next door neighbor, a French trapper, in the Canadian Northern Territory town of Caulfield. Francis has taken off into the bush and Mrs. Ross decides to follow him. Through a series of circumstances, she ends up being guided by an Indian trapper who is number two on the suspect list for the murder. While Mrs. Ross’s part in the book is revealed to us in a first person narration, the book uses a number of other strong characters (in third person) to give us alternative perspectives on the situation. Eventually, the Hudson Bay Company representatives, some local Native Indians, a few disreputable characters and a few downtrodden women all end up at various points in a snow filled landscape that chills to the bone.
While the novel is essentially a chase, it is paced slowly, not unlike walking through snow up to your knees. Penney takes plenty of time to deal with each character’s backstory (treating minor characters with the same respect) while enriching our reading experience with highly detailed points about surviving the pioneer experience. There are various love stories of various natures and the ache that the characters feel is transmitted through the pages to the reader.
Our group had no issues discussing this book once everyone got done criticizing its parallel to our weather. Ironically, with our modern conveniences, the complaints should fall on deaf ears in comparison to the suffering of the characters in this book. Sad, yet uplifting, The Tenderness of Wolves proved to be a great book discussion title.