The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

If I write a debut novel, I want it to be as good as this one. Stef Penney’s tale of Laurent Jammet and his unexpected murder leads us, through two different perspectives, into a stark world of rivalry and greed, addiction and control, wilderness and downfall.

I have to say that I was very taken with this book. The subject matter always appeals to me – the hardness of life in the days of European settlers and their interaction between natives, filled with threat from people, circumstance and environment alike. Add to that a good story, well-told and a clear direction and you have great fiction.

There was a lot to like here. I liked the way that it was structured as we flit between a first person and third person strand. The first person narrative is that of Mrs Ross, who we are with when Laurent is discovered dead and who, as events unfold, we follow on a journey across the great white expanse that is Canada in winter. She is seeking her son, Francis who has disappeared and as a result, is implicated as a potential suspect. We learn of her unhappy marriage and her love for her son. With trepidation, she leaves all she has known to find him, her guide a native man of few words called Parker, also a suspect for the murder.

The third person component covers all the other characters and the action that takes place around them. In particular, this includes Donald Moody, the Company accountant who is trying to find out along with Mackinley, another Company man, what has happened to Laurent; the Knox family including Magistrate Andrew Knox and his daughters, Maria and Susannah and Thomas Sturrock, a man involved deeply in Dove River’s past mysteries and who has an obsessive interest in something that Laurent had in his possession. As well as the main story, there are sub-plots which interweave with the action of the book to provide a complex story of loss and mystery and adventure with great characters throughout.

Penney leads us to a satisfying climax where most matters are resolved although some elements are left inconclusive but these do not detract from enjoyment of the book.

I look forward to reading more of Penney’s work in the future.

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