by Stef Penney

picked this novel up off a table piled high over at the costco. as i am well aware, the origins of a book are not always indicative of  their quality, in this case, i will say i was happily surprised.

set at the twilight of the 19th century in a remote Canadian village, the tale follows the murder mystery that unfolds in the tiny community. a local trapper is found dead and shockingly scalped and the village is rocked by the evidence of this violence in their midst.

perspective in this novel switches from first person in the entity of Mrs. Ross who discovers the body initially, to a third person voice following various other important players in the drama. the inner life of this trapper is inexorably revealed during the course of the investigation, and everyone in the community is touched in some way by his life or eventually, his death.

to my mind the most compelling character in the novel is our Mrs. Ross and feel the story suffers somewhat from leaving her behind. it seems, in what i interpret as an attempt to keep the book from being typified as a frontier murder mystery cum romance, the author might have sacrificed some measure of consistency. chapters which give us an eye into the minds of the other characters are interesting and absorbing to varying degrees, but the way we go from being inside Ross’ mind to merely observing these others seems a strange choice which interferes with the flow of the tale.

gripping vignettes describing the ruthless Canadian winter and the effect the elements have on the action makes the environment its own character. depictions of landscape and weather have a remarkable immediacy. language is used effectively and deftly throughout the novel.

some minor complaints about a tendency to stray and leave some points raised but answered persist, but since this is a first novel, i think on the whole, they are easily overlooked within the context of an otherwise starkly satisfying story.


Simon & Schuster (2007), Hardcover, 384 pages