When I originally picked up Candles Burning I went into the library to merely grab one book. This of course lead to me bringing home five books because I have no willpower when it comes to books. I had just finished reading Cold Moon Over Babylon and the name Michael McDowell was still fresh in my mind. What little I knew of this book was that this was Mr. McDowell’s last novel and he did not get to finish the book before his death. With the novel incomplete, Tabitha King came to the rescue and completed McDowell’s last words. And while I read lukewarm reviews I was still determined to read the book. Besides, Cold Moon Over Babylon was by far one of my favorite ghost stories I had read in years. How could this go wrong? And with that question in mind I realized how the story could go wrong.
Candles Burning is about the daughter of car salesman Joe Cane Dakin, Calliope “Callie” Dakin. The story focuses on her after, and slightly before, the horrific kidnapping, torturing, and murder of her father. And the whole time I could not help but think how can every single person be so cruel to this poor child who has lost her father?! And the worst offender is her own mother. It’s clear that the mother truly only cares about her son, Callie’s brother Ford, and herself. While there have been other books I’ve read where even the characters who are so flawed they have no redemption about them, you are still secretly rooting for the bad guy. I write this because I feel that every well thought out protagonist needs a good antagonist. In this case, readers will want to root solely for Callie and hope she gets the hell away from all the adults in her life by the end of the book.
What I loved so much about Cold Moon Over Babylon is that even the characters I hated, I desired to see what happened to them in the end. By the end of Candles Burning I would have been okay if Callie had burnt down what ultimately became her home after her father’s death. In fact, I almost think that would have been a better ending, or discovering that everyone that Callie had been communicating with her whole life had been ghosts all along. There is something so unsatisfactory by the ending of this book. And maybe part of it is as a reader you want to see the main character, and even her father who is barely touched upon, be vindicated far more than they are in the end.
Ultimately, this is a book that makes you want answers. In fact, around every turn we hope more is revealed. The problem is the amount of words readers endure to meet these answers in the first place. And quite possibly, the other problem lies in not believing this is the way McDowell would have wrapped up this character or the path he would have taken Callie down in the first place. The fact that there’s so much potential there that felt squandered leaves the reader wanting more, yet not being able to pinpoint exactly what that is in the first place.