The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (2006)
Life is complicated and often hard, relationships are complicated and hard, no matter at what time in history you live. My favorite is Mrs. Ross, who is sort of the main character in this book, who has a cooled off relationship with her husband, loves her adopted son Francis, has an unusual past, and the spunk to take off with a stranger to look for her son. Francis is a misunderstood teen, who has just lost his good friend and neighbor Laurent, so goes off to track his murderer.
Then there are the other townsfolk - magistrate Knox and his family with beautiful daughter Susannah and smart daughter Maria. The family tragic mystery is what happened to his sister-in-law's two girls who got lost in the woods years ago. They believe the Indians took them, but could never find them and the parents died of despair. Scott's store is the central gathering spot in Caulfield. Or is it Dove River?
Once the murder is discovered, Company men must be called in, so we have Mackinley with his meticulous sidekick Donald Moody and Indian guide Jacob. We eventually meet another Company post commander Stewart and his sidekick Nesbit. Then two outsiders who wander through town - Thomas Sturrock, an educated former journalist, preacher, tracker, and William Parker, a half-breed trapper.
We visit a Norwegian outpost religious community that has taken in Line and her children. And the Company post that is served resentfully by an Indian community. So you see, lots of complex characters, with complex stories, but all in all woven together quite well. I found something endearing in most of them.
The setting plays a very important role with it's cold winter and long desolate distances between inhabited areas. Reminded me of Paulson's Hatchett series, where the boy lands in the Canadian wilderness alone. Survival in this harsh climate requires skill, and we see the details best in Parker's trek. I have rarely taken long walks in the winter - remember some in the Catskills and Vermont. I have explored so little of our northern neighbor. Someday I will take that drive along the northern coast of Georgian Bay - but of course prefer to do it in the summer.
And finally the wolves. They do appear, mostly in the background, in the fear of them from various characters, while others explain that they would not attack humans. We do run into them a few times, and their propensity to leave humans alone is one clue to understanding what has happened. Was the author comparing the brutality of the human race to the "tenderness of wolves"? All in all a good read at the start of our own winter.