""Caribbean gothic"" aptly describes Nunez's third novel (after Beyond the Limbo Silence). The darkly lush story (based on a real-life crime) is rife with symbolism, ominous powers and fever-pitched tension between races and classes. In 1954, the mutilated body of a white female doctor washes ashore on Otahiti beach, Trinidad. When two local women--who as childhood friends bonded intensely after witnessing a young girl being attacked and molested behind a hibiscus bush--hear of the murder, they each decide to pilgrimage to a neighboring town to pray to Our Lady of Fatima. On the way, the women, Rosa and Zuela, recognize each other, and rekindle their friendship, nurturing a sisterhood that will change their lives. Rosa grew up neglected by her British, adulterous parents, and married Cedric, a tormented black school headmaster who lashes out cruelly at his faithful wife. Cedric taunts her with the idea that the murdered woman was a wife caught ""in flagrante delicto"" by her husband. Zuela's life has been equally harsh. At age 11, she was given away by her Venezuelan father to a merchant and opium addict, Ho Sang (or ""Chinaman""), for whom she has borne 10 children in as many years. Treated badly by Chinaman, Zuela stands up to him only when she fears he will involve her sons in his illicit trade. The two women now lean on each other for strength to transform their lives and leave their husbands, but readers may believe that the true salvation in this book arises not from the hard-won peace they find but from the incantatory, authentic Trinidadian dialect with which Nunez deftly infuses the dark, devastating tale with spirit and heart. Agent, Ivy Fischer Stone. (Apr.) FYI: Beyond the Limbo Silence won the 1999 Independent Award for Multicultural Fiction.