The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mrs. Ross, a stifled housewife living in the wild of 1867 Canada, stumbles upon the murder of a Quebecois fur trapper and it sets a chain of events that leads to her only son being named a suspect and a manhunt organized for him. Not one to sit back and let this happen in front of her, she picks up and follows another trapper and his dogs, hoping to find her son before the hunters do.
Mrs. Ross is not the only character in this novel, there are so many story-lines and points of view that it becomes like a kaleidoscope around the main event. I found the spinning and swooping into the worlds of so many different characters quite dizzying to the point where I would lose track of who was who initially until I finally settled into the novel. The historical details of the novel were so well researched and applied that it added a rich realism to the worlds of each character. It made for a work of fiction that was indeed quite a spectacle to behold.
I'm a bit torn on this novel. I found the characters fascinating, and being a history geek I loved all the details about life on the frontier, fur trapping, living in a fort, and who can resist a good murder mystery with a dose of family angst? And yet, I did not find myself swept off my feet by the story the way I was hoping to be. I felt this tense sort of edge of my seat eagerness as I read the book in two sittings, but in the end it just didn't happen for me.
At the end of everything, however, I was real pleased with the character of Mrs. Ross and found the glimpses in her backstory so interesting that I was hoping there would be more of it. I also enjoyed the characters William Parker and Donald Moody. They were well written but their stories ultimately feel so unsatisfying in their resolution that one almost wonders why so much care was taken to introduce us to them at all.
There is so much spectacle, in the historical detail and the meticulous description of the landscape, that there are parts in the novel where the murder mystery itself really doesn't seem to matter. The ultimate conclusion of the mystery does not fall with the stunning stroke the author was hoping for but more like just another revelation along the trail.
I recommend this book because it is well written and perhaps my own coolness towards the story won't be mirrored in the heart of another reader. I just wish that I could have LOVED it like I wanted to.
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