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The Tenderness of Wolves – Book Review

tendernessofwolves.jpg Sometimes you find yourself looking at the forest in a different way. Sometimes it’s no more than the trees that provide houses and warmth, and hide the earth’s nakedness, and you’re glad of it. And then sometimes, like tonight, it is a vast dark presence that you can never see the end of; it might, for all you know, have not just length and breadth to lose yourself in, but also an immeasurable depth, or something else altogether. -From The Tenderness of Wolves, page 55-

Stef Penney won the 2006 Costa Book Award for this first novel. Set in 1867 in the wilderness of Ontario near Georgian Bay, the novel is a panoramic, fast paced murder mystery. Penney’s cinematic experience as a screen writer is evident in the novel’s structure: short, tension filled chapters from alternating points of view.

The novel opens with the gruesome murder of Laurent Jammett, a French fur trader. His body is discovered by a neighbor – Mrs. Ross – who reports the crime to the local magistrate. Later when she discovers her 17 year old son is missing and he becomes the focus of the investigation, Mrs. Ross becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Penney brings together a wide range of characters besides Mrs. Ross and her son, Francis. There is Mr. Knox – the magistrate – and his daughters Susanna and Maria who tell the story of two girls (their cousins) who walked into the wilderness and were never found; the mysterious Thomas Sturrock arrives to claim an artifact promised to him by Jammett; a team of investigators from the Hudson Bay Company, including Donald Moody – a clumsy, young man with mixed loyalties – arrive within days of the murder; and William Parker, a half breed native American who becomes Mrs. Ross’ guide through the wilderness.

The Tenderness of Wolves is not a simple crime mystery. Penney deftly explores themes such as commercial conflict between the large fur companies and the smaller traders, addiction, infidelity, and sexuality. She has an eye for setting – placing her characters in the snowy landscape of the Northern Territories with wolves lurking in the dark woods. Her skill lies in drawing the reader into the story through a gradual awareness of the facts as tension thickens between key characters. There are parallel stories which weave through the novel – and become as engrossing as the main mystery.

I read The Tenderness of Wolves late into the night, compulsively turning the pages. It is easy to see why Penney won the prestigious Costa Award.

Highly recommended; rated 5/5.


  1. April 6, 2008    

    This book piqued my interest when Laura read it – now your review has piqued my interest even more. Sounds like a good book for Halloweentime. =)

    Have a great Sunday!

  2. April 6, 2008    

    Every review I read about this book tempts me a little more. I usually don’t care for murders or mysteries, but I really like the sound of the setting!

  3. April 6, 2008    

    Jill: I think you’d like this one…but don’t wait until Halloween! It is too good to wait that long 🙂

    Jeane: This book does indeed have a mystery and murder in it – but it goes beyond that genre and moves into the literary realm with a focus on relationships and characters. It is not a typical murder mystery by any means – which is one reason I liked it so much.

  4. Deb Deb
    October 7, 2008    

    After first getting through it, I became obsessed with this book and read it 2 or 3 times, taking notes, because I thought there was something much more hidden in it. I wanted to know Mrs. Ross’s first name, what happened to Amy, what the bone tablet was all about, and how they were all related. But these things are very ambiguous and remain unsolved. It doesn’t tie up with a nice bow but I would still recommend it.

  5. October 9, 2008    

    Deb: I think that was one thing I liked about the book – that there were no neat bows at the end (I know that drives some people crazy). I expect to see this one come out as a movie at some point.

  6. Hank Hank
    January 30, 2009    

    To Deb: Mrs. Ross’s first name is Lucie, the same as one of Parker’s dogs. See pg 136 (paperback edition).

  7. November 19, 2009    

    Wendy — I just read this one and reviewed it on Rose City Reader>. I loved it.

    I’m going to add a link to your review right now!

    Have a happy Thanksgiving!

  8. November 20, 2009    

    Rose City Reader: Thanks for the link! So glad to see you loved the book as I did. I am looking forward to her next book, aren’t you? Happy Turkey Day to you as well 🙂

  9. Caroline Matherly Caroline Matherly
    January 19, 2010    

    I agree with Hank. Mrs. Ross’s name is Lucie. One of William Parker’s dogs was named LUCEE. Near the end of the book when he asked Mrs. Ross her name, she said he had called it enough. Other hints occurred earlier in the story, also.


  10. January 27, 2010    

    Caroline: Thanks for clearing up some of the confusion.

  11. Laurice Monforte Laurice Monforte
    March 15, 2010    

    i love the book, but i find some details and characters impertinent and doesn’t further up the story like the bone tablet among other things… but wholly, it’s a good read..

  12. March 15, 2010    

    Laurice: Glad you enjoyed the book…thanks for weighing in on the discussion!

  13. August 18, 2010    

    I just finished this book and thought it was wonderful. I was wondering what her name was! Hilarious. I read too fast, I guess. It didn’t dawn on me that it was the dog’s name. I am so glad I found your review. I am going to link to it. Thanks.

  14. August 23, 2010    

    Christy: Glad you enjoyed the book! And thanks for the link love 🙂

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