The Tenderness of Wolves
by Stef Penney


Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4165-4074-8.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 01/14/2009

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery

Stef Penney's first novel, winner of the 2006 Costa Book of the Year Award, is stunning. Penney who lives in Scotland, writes of Canada in early winter in 1867. Even without the complex weaving of various lives into an epic tapestry, the writing sings. Sitting at home in my cozy house, I felt the sting of the cold, the bite of icy wind and the almost constant grey of the sky and landscape. I was there. The snow creaks as it receives footfall. The bare limbs of the trees rake across the sky. It is cold.

Such is the scene when Mrs. Ross discovers, first, that her neighbor has been murdered and, then, that her seventeen-year-old son has gone missing. Two sets of tracks lead from the cabin of the French Canadian voyageur who had worked for the Hudson Bay Company. What did he have or what did he do to warrant his murder? The magistrate of the small town of Dove River begins an investigation which is shortly picked up by authorities from the Hudson Bay Company. Trackers set out to find the suspected boy. The characters include Mr. and Mrs. Ross, their son, authorities, townspeople, half-breed trackers as well as the inhabitants of a remote Hudson Bay Company outpost and a small religious community. There is mystery, intrigue, passion, courage, evil, the drama of survival in the vast landscape and much more.

The Tenderness of Wolves is a marvelous read. Penney creates believable characters from all the disassociated elements in an historic setting to solve mysteries, old and new.


Stef Penney was born and grew up in Edinburgh. She is a screenwriter and this is her first novel.

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