In the waning days of 1958, Linda Rose Armbrust leaves the United States and her grand aspirations of being a Hollywood starlet behind for a life of secrets. After a dead man is buried and a quick marriage arrangement, Linda becomes Rosalinda da Costa, the wife of Brazilian detective Gilberto da Costa. They settle into Gilberto’s hometown as Roz struggles to assimilate to Brazilian culture. Gilberto’s obsession with the case that brought him to the United States reaches new heights when more women are killed from botched abortions, threatening to disrupt their new life before they’ve had a chance to begin. On the hunt for the serial killer abortionist, Gilberto and Roz soon discover that they’re both harboring more secrets than the other realizes.
BURNING CANDLES’ historical setting—the last year of the 1950s into a new decade—adds another interesting layer to the novel’s already lush atmosphere. It isn’t until the last act of the story, where all of the pieces begin to come together, that it becomes clear BURNING CANDLES couldn’t have been set in any other time period for it to work this well. While women like Roz are offered some forms of freedom, there are many aspects of their lives still under scrutiny and control. This is a constant thread in the novel, a reason for the rash of abortions that have killed young woman, a reason why cults in this growing city in Brazil’s interior can prey on vulnerable girls.
As Roz’s secrets haunt her, she fights to carve out a new start for herself. She’s a sympathetic protagonist unwilling to put up with people who try to make her life harder, like her overbearing mother-in-law. But it isn’t just Roz who proves to be a compelling protagonist. The narrative switches between her daily struggles and that of her husband, who has a troubled past of his own. One could argue that his efforts in solving the case, a job he’s been desperately working on for five years, is even more captivating.
Their marriage is written with realism, but the stereotypes that usually accompany fifties marriages aren’t overdone. They act like adults, resolve their issues, and their shared journey from passion to genuine love has its own emotional stakes. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a healthy relationship portrayed despite its rocky beginnings.
Although BURNING CANDLES is slow to build its intrigue and suspense, there’s a few ultimately satisfying twists. The last act of the novel does feel rushed and the ending comes more abruptly than it should have. There’s a lot of information to process in the last couple of chapters and that final bit of emotional closure for Roz and Gilberto feels like it’s missing, which is somewhat of a letdown after everything they’ve been through together.
BURNING CANDLES is a story that simmers, building intrigue and suspense with prose as lush as its tropical setting.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader