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Tenderness Of Wolves

Tenderness Of Wolves

3.9 48
by Stef Penney
     
 

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As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River in 1867, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year-old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin lead north towards the tundra beyond. Strangers are drawn to the township—journalists, Hudson’s Bay Company men, trappers, traders—but do they want to solve the crime

Overview

As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River in 1867, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year-old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin lead north towards the tundra beyond. Strangers are drawn to the township—journalists, Hudson’s Bay Company men, trappers, traders—but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The frigid isolation of European immigrants living on the 19th-century Canadian frontier is the setting for British author Penney's haunting debut. Seventeen-year-old Francis Ross disappears the same day his mother discovers the scalped body of his friend, fur trader Laurent Jammet, in a neighboring cabin. The murder brings newcomers to the small settlement, from inexperienced Hudson Bay Company representative Donald Moody to elderly eccentric Thomas Sturrock, who arrives searching for a mysterious archeological fragment once in Jammet's possession. Other than Francis, no real suspects emerge until half-Indian trapper William Parker is caught searching the dead man's house. Parker escapes and joins with Francis's mother to track Francis north, a journey that produces a deep if unlikely bond between them. Only when the pair reaches a distant Scandinavian settlement do both characters and reader begin to understand Francis, who arrived there days before them. Penney's absorbing, quietly convincing narrative illuminates the characters, each a kind of outcast, through whose complex viewpoints this dense, many-layered story is told. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
British filmmaker Penney sets her intriguing, well-wrought novel in a 19th-century Canadian farming community up-ended by the murder of a lone fur trapper. In the town of Dove River on the north shore of Georgian Bay, a middle-aged farmer's wife we know only as Mrs. Ross discovers the body of French trapper Laurent Jammet, scalped and with his throat cut. The leaders of the community and the all-important Hudson Bay Company men gather to make sense of the killing, which revives sore memories of teenage sisters Amy and Eve Seton, who set out on a picnic 15 years before and never returned. Mrs. Ross is particularly concerned about Jammet's murder because 17-year-old Francis, an Irish orphan she and her husband took in when he was five, has not come home from a fishing trip. Suspicion falls on the boy, who was known to frequent Jammet's cabin. Several other characters emerge with ties to the dead man, including Toronto lawyer Thomas Sturrock, who comes sniffing around for an ancient marked bone that might prove of invaluable archaeological consequence, and shady half-Indian intruder William Parker, who traded with Jammett. The first-person account of Mrs. Ross alternates with sections concerning Francis, who's being nursed by the kindly Norwegian inhabitants of Himmelvanger after collapsing with exhaustion while following the trail of Jammet's murderer. His determined mother has set out to find him; other search parties also track Francis, as well as Parker, runaways from Himmelvanger, people lost in the snow and the killer. Penney offers numerous strings to untangle, but moments of love amid the gelid wastes add some warmth to her teeming, multi-character tale. Winner of the U.K. Costa Bookof the Year award for 2006, a striking debut by a writer with tremendous command of language, setting and voice.
From the Publisher
"The Tenderness of Wolves stood out from a very strong shortlist. We felt enveloped by the snowy landscape and gripped by the beautiful writing and effortless story-telling. It is a story of love, suspense and beauty. We couldn't put it down." — Costa Award Committee

"An original and readable mixture of mystery and history, with a good dollop of old-fashioned adventure." — The Times (London)

"In suitable Jack London style for a setting in Canada's snowy wastes, wolves wander in and out of this suspenseful 19th-century epic, offering a leitmotif of constant unease. So begins what masquerades as a traditional murder quiz but quickly broadens out to encompass other lines of inquiry — the mystery of two long-missing young sisters, the quest for a forgotten native American culture, the twists and turns of an unusual love story. Stef Penney is from Edinburgh and claims never to have visited Canada — impressive, then, that the land of her imagination convinces." — The Guardian

"A fascinating, suspense-filled adventure, a refreshing contrast to the conventional murder mystery." — The Sunday Telegraph (London)

"The novel has a large canvas and . . . the story twists and turns. The Tenderness of Wolves is an entertaining and well-written adventure thriller." — The Spectator

"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 (Manchester)

"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

"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

"Penney's descriptions of the harsh landscape and the deprivation of living there are vivid and excellent." — The Daily Telegraph (Australia)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143052135
Publisher:
Penguin Canada
Publication date:
09/04/2007
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Tenderness of Wolves

A Novel
By Stef Penney

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2007 Stef Penney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416540748

From Disappearance

The last time I saw Laurent Jammet, he was in Scott's store with a dead wolf over his shoulder. I had gone to get needles, and he had come in for the bounty. Scott insisted on the whole carcass, having once been bamboozled by a Yankee who brought in a pair of ears one day and claimed his bounty, then some time later brought in the paws for another dollar, and finally the tail. It was winter and the parts looked fairly fresh, but the con became common knowledge, to Scott's disgust. So the wolf's face was the first thing I saw when I walked in. The tongue lolled out of the mouth, which was pulled back in a grimace. I flinched, despite myself. Scott yelled and Jammet apologized profusely; it was impossible to be angry with him, what with his charm and his limp. The carcass was removed out back somewhere, and as I was browsing, they began to argue about the moth-eaten pelt that hangs over the door. I think Jammet suggested jokingly that Scott replace it with a new one. The sign under it reads, "Canis lupus (male), the first wolf to be caught in the town of Caulfield, 11th February, 1860." The sign tells you a lot about John Scott, demonstrating his pretensions to learning, his self-importance, and the craven respect for authority over truth. It certainly wasn't the first wolf to be caught around here, and there is no such thing as the town of Caulfield, strictlyspeaking, although he would like there to be, because then there would be a council, and he could be its mayor.

"Anyway, that is a female. Males have a darker collar, and are bigger. This one is very small."

Jammet knew what he was talking about, as he had caught more wolves than anyone else I know. He smiled, to show he meant no offense, but Scott takes offense like it is going out of fashion, and bristled.

"I suppose you remember better than I do, Mr. Jammet?"

Jammet shrugged. Since he wasn't here in 1860, and since he was French, unlike the rest of us, he had to watch his step.

At this point I stepped up to the counter. "I think it was a female, Mr. Scott. The man who brought it in said her cubs howled all night. I remember it distinctly."

And the way Scott strung up the carcass by its back legs outside the store for everyone to gawp at. I had never seen a wolf before, and I was surprised at its smallness. It hung with its nose pointing at the ground, eyes closed as if ashamed. Men mocked the carcass, and children laughed, daring each other to put their hands in its mouth. They posed with it for each other's amusement.

Scott turned tiny, bright blue eyes on me, either affronted that I should side with a foreigner, or just affronted, it was hard to tell.

"And look what happened to him." Doc Wade, the man who brought in the bounty, drowned the following spring -- as though that threw his judgment into question.

"Ah, well..." Jammet shrugged and winked at me, the cheek.

Somehow -- I think Scott mentioned it first -- we got talking about those poor girls, as people usually do when the subject of wolves is raised. Although there are any number of unfortunate females in the world (plenty in my experience alone), around here "those poor girls" always refers to only two -- the Seton sisters, who vanished all those years ago. There were a few minutes' pleasant and pointless exchange of views that broke off suddenly when the bell rang and Mrs. Knox came in. We pretended to be very interested in the buttons on the counter. Laurent Jammet took his dollar, bowed to me and Mrs. Knox, and left. The bell jangled on its metal spring for a long time after he walked out.

That was all, nothing significant about it. The last time I saw him.

Laurent Jammet was our closest neighbor. Despite this, his life was a mystery to us. I used to wonder how he hunted wolves with his bad leg, and then someone told me that he baited deer meat with strychnine. The skill came in following the trail to the resulting corpse. I don't know, though; that is not hunting as I'Äàsee it. I know wolves have learned to stay out of range of a Winchester rifle, so they cannot be entirely stupid, but they are not so clever that they have learned to distrust a free gift of food, and where is the merit in following a doomed creature to its end? There were other unusual things about him: long trips away from home in parts unknown; visits from dark, taciturn strangers; and brief displays of startling generosity, in sharp counterpoint to his dilapidated cabin. We knew that he was from Quebec. We knew that he was Catholic, although he did not often go to church or to confession (though he may have indulged in both during his long absences). He was polite and cheerful, although he did not have particular friends, and kept a certain distance. And he was, I daresay, handsome, with almost-black hair and eyes, and features that gave the impression of having just finished smiling, or being just about to start. He treated all women with the same respectful charm, but managed not to irritate either them or their husbands. He was not married and showed no inclination to do so, but I have noticed that some men are happier on their own, especially if they are rather slovenly and irregular in their habits.

Some people attract an idle and entirely unmalicious envy. Jammet was one of those, lazy and good-natured, who seem to slide through life without toil or effort. I thought him lucky, because he did not seem to worry about those things that turn the rest of us gray. He had no gray hairs, but he had a past, which he kept mostly to himself. He imagined himself to have a future, too, I suppose, but he did not. He was perhaps forty. It was as old as he would ever get.

It is a Thursday morning in mid-November, about two weeks after that meeting in the store. I walk down the road from our house in a dreadful temper, planning my lecture carefully. More than likely I rehearse it aloud -- one of many strange habits that are all too easy to pick up in the backwoods. The road -- actually little more than a series of ruts worn by hooves and wheels -- follows the river where it plunges down a series of shallow falls. Under the birches patches of moss gleam emerald in the sunlight. Fallen leaves, crystallized by the night's frost, crackle under my feet, whispering of the coming winter. The sky is an achingly clear blue. I walk quickly in my anger, head high. It probably makes me look cheerful.

Jammet's cabin sits away from the riverbank in a patch of weeds that passes for a garden. The unpeeled log walls have faded over the years until the whole thing looks gray and woolly, more like a living growth than a building. It is something from a bygone age: the door is buckskin stretched over a wooden frame, the windows glazed with oiled parchment. In winter he must freeze. It's not a place where the women of Dove River often call, and I haven't been here myself for months, but right now I have run out of places to look.

There is no smoke signal of life inside, but the door stands ajar; the buckskin stained from earthy hands. I call out, then knock on the wall. There is no reply, so I peer inside, and when my eyes have adjusted to the dimness I see Jammet, at home and, true to form, asleep on his bed at this time in the morning. I nearly walk away then, thinking there is no point waking him, but frustration makes me persevere. I haven't come all this way for nothing.

"Mr. Jammet?" I start off, sounding, to my mind, irritatingly bright. "Mr. Jammet, I am sorry to disturb you, but I must ask..."

Laurent Jammet sleeps peacefully. Around his neck is the red neckerchief he wears for hunting, so that other hunters will not mistake him for a bear and shoot him. One foot protrudes off the side of the bed, in a dirty sock. His red neckerchief is on the table...I have grasped the side of the door. Suddenly, from being normal, everything has changed completely: flies hover around their late autumn feast; the red neckerchief is not around his neck, it cannot be, because it is on the table, and that means...

"Oh," I say, and the sound shocks me in the silent cabin. "No."

I cling on to the door, trying not to run away, although I realize a second later I couldn't move if my life depended on it.

The redness around his neck has leaked into the mattress from a gash. A gash. I'm panting, as though I've been running. The door frame is the most important thing in the world right now. Without it, I don't know what I would do.

The neckerchief has not done its duty. It has failed to prevent his untimely death.

I don't pretend to be particularly brave, and, in fact, long ago gave up the notion that I have any remarkable qualities, but I am surprised at the calmness with which I look around the cabin. My first thought is that Jammet has destroyed himself, but Jammet's hands are empty, and there is no sign of a weapon near him. One hand dangles off the side of the bed. It does not occur to me to be afraid. I know with absolute certainty that whoever did this is nowhere near -- the cabin proclaims its emptiness. Even the body on the bed is empty. There are no attributes to it now -- the cheerfulness and slovenliness and skill at shooting, the generosity and callousness -- they have all gone.

There is one other thing I can't help but notice, as his face is turned slightly away from me. I don't want to see it, but it's there, and it confirms what I have already unwillingly accepted -- that among all the things in the world that can never be known, Laurent Jammet's fate is not one of them. This is no accident, nor is it self-destruction. He has been scalped.

At length, although it is probably only a few seconds later, I pull the door closed behind me, and when I can't see him anymore, I feel better. Although for the rest of that day, and for days after, my right hand aches from the violence with which I gripped the door frame, as though I had been trying to knead the wood between my fingers, like dough.

Copyright © 2006 by Stef Penney



Continues...


Excerpted from The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney Copyright © 2007 by Stef Penney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stef Penney was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland . Her debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, was an international bestseller and received the prestigious Costa Award. She is also a screenwriter.

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