Monday, July 16, 2007

The Tenderness of Wolves (Stef Penney)

The Tenderness of Wolves is another unputdownable novel and one that leaves some unanswered questions to tease the reader. It is set in the Canadian wilderness during 1867 in a time when fur trading companies are in fierce competition. The land is thinly populated by trading posts, farming villages and religious villages (Lutheran Norwegians in this case) with many days walk between them, as well as elusive bands of native people.

In the farming village of Dove River, near to Caulfield, a French trapper has been found murdered and a local youth has gone missing. This in a village where locals still discuss the disappearance of 2 local girls more than a decade previously. Several people are interested in finding the murderer of Laurent Jammet for different reasons - a hidden fortune, an archeological artefact and friendship. Mrs Ross engages the help of a half-Indian tracker to track her son who has either fled the scene or is seeking the murderer of the man he admired. Sturrock, still condemned over mishandling the search for the Seton girls goes in seach of a bone artefact he believes Jammet owes him.

With communciations taking days or weeks, especially in the winter, trails criss-cross. The trail leads to a Lutheran community and thence to a trading post in decline. As the stories criss-cross, we learn more of the motives driving the individuals and the secrets they keep. Many people are not as they seem and hold secrets about who they are and what drives them. The isolation leads people to drink, laudanum, madness and murder. The fur trade itself is in decline due to over-hunting. The Scots, French, Irish and Norwegian settlers remain ill-adapted to this land.

Although the central murder is resolved, Penney leaves us with questions that will never be answered - the bone tablet (sought by one of those seeking the murderer), Mrs Ross's first name (alluded to, but never stated) and the fate of one of the Seton girls (the fate of the other is resolved).