A Pyre of Roses centers around Michael Attzs, a foundling raised by nuns, who has had more than his share of hardship and tragedy. This ambitious novel with an engaging Trinidadian setting, introduces many island locals and visitors, all with their own dark secrets to hide, and all with connections to Attzs’ tragic past
A Pyre of Roses tells the story of Michael Attzs, a young man with a tragic life. No aspect of his life, from the mystery of his birth family, to the accident that killed his first wife and child, to the stranger who bums a cigarette and then tries to frames Attzs for murder, is straightforward. Most of the story is told over the shoulder of “Auntie” Beatrice, who has cared for and protected Michael since his childhood, although like everyone in this novel, her own life has not been smooth. Her love and concern for Michael shine out in a story where everyone has something to hide.
The search for Attzs’ true identity will keep readers guessing, with surprises and scares, although the sheer number of dangerous secrets in this story made it harder to feel deeply upset by the accounts of murder, crime, molestation, mistaken or faked identity, corrupt law enforcement, and other tragedies in this small island town. With matter-of-fact prose for these dark revelations, Roland hints a world where confessions and deaths, faked police logs and criminals turning state’s witness are simply mundane events. The novel offered so many twists in Attzs’ tragic life that it was impossible to guess who was lying and who was guilty until Roland chose to reveal it. The only thing for sure is that everyone in this novel has a secret, and some will take extreme measure to keep things hidden.
In the background of Attzs’ story, the racial tension left by colonial rule is constantly present in this novel. Roland introduces us to Trinidadian locals who expect to be rounded up by police on yet another exaggerated charge, and to British visitors who expect girls as part of their hotel arrangement. Roland takes us to many different subsets of Trinidadian society, and casually introduces different privileges or struggles, all from characters who accept that this the way of life. Small and meaningful moments show us the heartbreaking legacy of colonialism in this narrative.
After so many dark revelations around Michael’s life and past, it became harder to feel emotionally moved by a new character’s secrets or another attempted murder. It was also difficult to connect with such a huge cast of characters. Still, there’s there’s a lot to enjoy in the island setting, and in the moments of bravery in a world of corruption and danger, and in how Roland keeps readers guessing until the very end. The end is, at last, uplifting, with the possibility of hope and redemption for tragic Michael Attzs.
~Meg Stivison for IndieReader.