In Rolnick’s (Tattle Tales, 2016, etc.) series starter, a small group of people in Puerto Rico face potential danger after a sex worker is brutally beaten.
Monica, who runs a brothel, doesn’t know where to turn when her employee and friend Carmen is physically assaulted, because Carmen is an undocumented Costa Rican immigrant. Local businessman and coconut-farm owner Carlos suggests taking her to his wife, Rosie, a biologist and healer. Carlos and Rosie’s marriage is troubled; he’s absolutely devoted to his business, and she’s focused on helping those less fortunate, so they’ve gradually grown apart and now live separately. He suspects that Carmen’s attacker is Rosie’s close friend Jesus, who oversees the coconut farm. Jesus sent a secret, cryptic message to another healer, Abuelita, by homing pigeon, implying that a sinister plot was unfolding on the island. Abuelita, in turn, believes that it’s all tied to Carmen’s unknown past in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, two strangers on the island—investors for a condominium project involving Carlos—are making people wary, as well. Things escalate when a dead body is discovered and then subsequently disappears. Rolnick’s story is richly detailed, featuring characters with dense, intriguing backstories. American-born Rosie, for example, lost her Costa Rican father and American mother in a car accident on a mountain road that the local media wrote off as suicide. The author also makes Carlos exceedingly unlikable—a controlling man who disapproves of Rosie’s attire and even blames her for a miscarriage. Although the novel mainly concentrates on melodrama and politics—locals protest the U.S. military’s “bombing practice” on nearby Vieques Island—the understated mystery is solid. Rolnick’s assertive prose generates a slow, steady pace and even moments of poetry: “Teardrops of sadness were meant to be swallowed so that the oceans would fill with only happy tears.”
An absorbing drama with elaborate characters.