Winner of:
2007 Hammett Prize for Crime Writing
2008 Relit Award
Amazon Ca / New Books In Canada Award

John Updike gave good advice when it comes to reviewing books.  Rule #1 states that one should not blame the author for not achieving what he did not attempt.  OK but sometimes the  dustjacket and the synopsis engender a  synaptic connection with another beloved read.  The covers  shown aren’t identical but the ingredients of snow,trees, flight through a Canadian winter,  title printed in the same colour of red, and I’m expecting a read of the calibre of The Tenderness of Wolves.

Of course, I shouldn’t because The Outlander isn’t another Tenderness of Wolves.  For a start we know the identity of the murderess  from the beginning.  She’s the young Stevie Nicks lookalike fleeing from her dead husband’s brothers.  The mystery, therefore, isn’t a whodunnit – it’s a whydunnit and gradually during lulls in the chase the layers are peeled back to reveal all.

As an adventure yarn this is a enjoyable read.  The widow’s journey through the wilderness and her eventual settling  in the  horse-rustling, wild-western but doomed town of Frank is well-paced and entertaining.  The details are vivid and the pages turn quite rapidly.  My advice is to read and enjoy the novel on this level because on closer inspection it doesn’t hold up as well.

Firstly and least significantly,  just a pet hate of mine – toilet scenes.   Why do authors insist on this?  Verisimilitude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Secondly, there is a feminist subtext in Mary’s back history.  Her madness caused in part through being viewed as a possession, not an intelligent human being.  Yet her survival depends on her finding male benefactors – not once, not twice, but three times.  Admittedly she becomes more independent as the story progresses, yet, when she makes the most feminist gesture of them all (in the final sentence), I didn’t buy it.  Thirdly, and this was the most frustrating element of the novel, Adamson, having carefully built up a chilling ruthlessness in Mary’s pursuers, brings the chase to an end in the most anti-climactic manner imaginable.   These mixed messages adding up to a novel that is inconsistent with itself.

As indeed is this review!  Having written what could be taken as a hachette job, I still recommend it.  As an adventure yarn.  A piece of escapist fiction.  Perfect for snuggling up with on a cold winter’s day.  A good read.  Just not a brilliant one.  Not The Tenderness of Wolves.

 

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