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The Tenderness of Wolves
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The Tenderness of Wolves

4.0 48
by Stef Penney

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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)

A skillful blend of literary thriller, wilderness adventure, and historical romance, Stef Penney's panoramic novel traces the impact of a brutal murder on the lives of several settlers in Canada's Northern Territories in the winter of 1869. Mysteries surround the victim, a Frenchman named Laurent Jammett who once worked for the Hudson Bay Company. But in this lonely outpost on the edge of the world, everyone harbors a secret -- including Jammett's neighbor Mrs. Ross, her teenage son, Francis, and William Parker, the enigmatic half-breed trapper who sets out with her in search of the truth. Much has been made of the fact that this gorgeous set piece, with its perfectly described North American landscape, was written by an agoraphobic author who never set foot in Canada. We think it's far more astounding that The Tenderness of Wolves is the product of a first-time novelist. Surely, Stef Penney is a literary force to be reckoned with.
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.

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Simon & Schuster
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5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

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, strictly speaking, 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 see 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

Meet 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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Tenderness of Wolves 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not the kind of book that I would normally read but the title caught my attention. It was fabulous. I learned a lot about Canada in the mid 1800s and trading companies and trapping. Well written, a mystery with a love stories thrown in for fun. Hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Suspenseful and fascinating novel. I highly recommend this to anybody who enjoys mystery and/or historical fiction. I was surprised that the New York Times has not reviewed this book - it was such an enjoyable read and I got it in the bargain bin at B&N!!
BookGma More than 1 year ago
Interesting, but not exactly an upper! Kind of dark. Just not what I expected; not quite sure why. I wanted the characters to be a little more communicative to each other. Showed the difficult living conditions people lived under in that time period and location.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was simply a great story and a fun read. I enjoyed the way each chapter was told from a different character's perspective and how the author used first person for the main character. The author did an excellent job of describing the landscape. Even on a hot summer day, I could feel the cold and wet of this Canadian winter. It was one of those books that I couldn't wait to get home to after work.
Friscogirl More than 1 year ago
A mother searches for her son across a frigid landscape- the basis of a complex story interweaving missing artifacts, Canadian mounties, Native Americans and even Scandinavian immigrants! This all takes place in the wilderness along the Canadian border in the 1800's. The author creates haunting characters, and evokes a time and place little explored in novels. The plot is full of surprises and a satisfying read. And the wolves...bring unforgettable imagery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book tremendously. Until the end. The story was intriguing, dramatic and well-developed. However, the author left the ending to the reader's imagination and I felt somewhat cheated. The cover was what drew me, as well as the wolf theme.
Guest More than 1 year ago
So glad I found this book - I had never read this type of story. As another reviewer stated, it does not fit into one genre. There are a lot of characters to keep up with but I found with careful reading I was able to keep everyone straight. I felt I needed more closer with some of the characters at the end - but all in all a great read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was an unexpected treat. I thought I would find it interesting, but really thoroughly enjoyed it from page one to finish. You don't have to know anything about the time and place of the setting to really get into this book. The author takes you there among the characters, all of whom are so interesting, and you feel the cold and see the landscape.
PVoetsch1 More than 1 year ago
Story takes place in the Canadian wintertime of the 1860s and centers around an unseemly murder. All the characters, none of which seem to be capable of expressing their feelings - that is at first. Very interesting story line. I found this book engrossing and wanted it to continue. Glad I was wandering around B&N and saw this book. Great read!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found Tenderness of Wolves an offbeat, well-written book. Steff Penny's writing style skillfully weaves character development, setting, and plot to draw the reader into being part of the tapestry of the story. It reminded me of Mystic River in that the characters in the story are as intriguing as the plot, making the book far more than a mystery.
lyndia More than 1 year ago
High on adventure, suspense and quite the thriller.
If you spend time in the back country and know what real quiet is you will actually feel the chill up your back bone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the time frame of the story and the life style of the people interested me. the story itself was involved with to many characters, which lead me to want to put the book down. at times it felt like i was reading for history class. yet i finished the book, but it was more work than fun.
MikeS More than 1 year ago
A mystery set in the mid 1800s in Canada. A chance to be a unique historical piece of fiction. The story involves at least five subplots which jump around increasing the effort to keep things in order. I found myself constantly trying to remind myself of who each character was. The author's prose was fine. Her plot organization and structure were dfficult to get through. And the answer to the mystery came from a source which was a whole new subplot inserted at the end. I note the author is a screenwriter. My impression is this would make a nice 12 part mini-series, but it doesn't work well as a novel. Nice setting, interesting plot idea, peculiar characters, but as a novel it doesn't flow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book has many interwoven themes, love, avarice, ethnic relationships and mystery. The word-painting of cold landscapes and hard lives, brings the story to life. All in all a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AndyAC More than 1 year ago
After reading "The Tenderness of Wolves" by Stef Penney, I immediately got "The Invisible Ones" also by Stef Penney. She understands people. Her descriptions take you there. This book was an award winner and justifiably so. It is about a time and place that not many of us can relate to and yet, somehow she takes you there. I would highly recommend it if you want a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BrownieGA More than 1 year ago
Penney is a true novelist, one of our newest stars. Than you, Stef. Congratulations on the 2006 Costa Book of the Year winning.
Ztarina More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it is the exposure to 45 minute CSI and Law & Order episodes that makes this 'thriller' less enjoyable than expected. I believe that the author spent loving attention on building the vast character base and interweaving a story line in a setting with great dramatic opportunity. However, the build up never quite fulfills the potential I'd expect in a crime story. It has suspense, but the long-drawn out tracking of the missing son, Francis, leading to the eventual solution of the mystery takes the reader down too many backwood trails. There are lots of little plots and characters to divert the attention from the pivotal storyline: who killed Laurent Jammett? The main character, Mrs. Ross, does not have the flair or classic qualities of a traditional detective and there is a sadness pervasive to almost every person's life in this novel. Perhaps it is a great novel for people who like fiction to reflect reality. However, I like my escapist literature to take me someplace I have never been, not visit a place which I would never want to go. And yet, there are points of interest in the novel. I think historians and old west buffs would enjoy the realistic depiction of life on the edge of civilization. There is an earthy grittyness to the form. It just wasn't my cup of tea.
SarahBennet22 More than 1 year ago
Amazing Historical fiction based in Canada during the trading company days. A man is murdered and his neighbors and town try to find out why. Is the man suspected a killer or just being judged based on his skin or that he's french? Amazing twist and turns. A very rich read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author captured the rugged territory of Canada. You felt as though you were trekking the difficult terrain and enduring the exceptionally cold temperatures. The characters were very interesting and all seemed to have inner secrets. Mrs. Ross will endure anything to find her son. I was disappointed in the way Mrs. Ross treated the Indian at the end when she no longer required his help in their mission. This book was the author's first publication and I thought she presented it very vividly and I enjoyed it very much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a lot to sink your teeth into, good believable characters, and good central plot with several interesting side-plots. I liked the fact that the main character was a strong woman. Never having been to that type of desolate landscape, I was able to imagine myself there, due to the skill of the author. I hope Stef Penney writes more books of this type.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago