This was a charity shop bargain which I saw and thought sounded interesting. It won the 2006 Costa prize so is obviously quite well known and appreciated but I had never heard of it.
Essentially it is a murder mystery set in a small, Canadian frontier community and the icy countryside around it in the mid-19th Century. Laurent Jammet, a French trapper and trader who lives apart from the rest of the people of Dove River and Caulfield, is discovered dead and scalped by Mrs Ross. She is also a bit of a loner, who occasionally dwells on her life back in Scotland when her mother committed suicide and she was sent to an asylum. Back in the present she feels distant from her husband and adopted son who has, alarmingly, gone missing since the dead man was discovered. She sets out into the wilderness with the help of William Parker, a “half-breed” (mixed race white and Native American), to try and find her son Francis. The book also follows Francis Ross, the men charged with investigating the death, the Knox family who have also known tragedy as Mrs Knox two nieces disappeared feared eaten by wolves or stolen by Indians some years before and Mr Sturrock, a wannabe searcher and anthropologist who is trying to prove that Indians may have had a written language in the past.
The mystery element hooks you in straight away, but you keep reading and page turning because it is so well written. The book just radiates with cold (if that is possible). The atmosphere and landscape is brilliantly conveyed in every scene, you feel like you are with Mrs Ross on every painful step of her journey through the snowy wastes and forests. I loved all the characters, they are all subtle and vividly three dimensional. I didn’t want to leave them when the book finished. The story does come to a satisfying conclusion, but I was still eager to find out what would happen next when everyone went back to their lives.