Title: The Lamplighters
Author: Emma Stonex
Published: March 9th 2021
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
Rating: 3 stars
Cornwall, 1972. Three lighthouse keepers vanish from a remote rock, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.
What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. Black rocks roll beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?
Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. Now, they have a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .
Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters is an intoxicating, suspenseful and deeply moving mystery, and an unforgettable story of love, grief and obsession.
A perplexing real-life history underlines The Lamplighters, a debut fiction novel by Emma Stonex. A lifelong interest held by the author in relation to lighthouses and the sea inspired this story, which is filled with mystery, speculation and secrets. With a gothic atmosphere, supernatural tones and a crashing ocean waves setting, the disappearance of three men from their offshore lighthouse in 1972 directs this murky novel.
Opening in Cornwall in the early 1970s, The Lamplighters follows the puzzling story of three men who vanished from an offshore lighthouse. There are many secrets and whispered truths that follow this strange case. From ghosts that haunt the area, to mysterious figures and sea creatures at work. Could this event simply be a case of accidental drowning? While it is hard for the loved ones left behind to come to grips with this unsolved mystery, there is hope that one day the full story will emerge, or the keepers will return home. But two decades later, we learn that the families of the three keepers are still grieving and searching for answers. Over the years the three wives left behind are divided in their grief. Unable to support one another through these tough times, they have sought comfort away from one another. Still clearly experiencing a high level of inner turmoil, the presence of a writer hoping to resolve this ongoing mystery adds a whole new dynamic to the situation. But in revisiting this heartbreaking story, the women are faced with cold hard truths and possibilities that are hard to accept.
The Lamplighters is a book that created a lot of initial excitement for me. I do love a good gothic story set on the Cornish coast and I also enjoy lighthouse-based tales. Emma Stonex’s novel seemed to hold a lot of early promise and having glanced at the six hundred reviews for this book on Goodreads, I had the feeling that I was going to really like this one.
I will begin by saying that I loved the setting of The Lamplighters. The Cornish coast is such a spectacular place and it is the perfect location for a mystery of this inclination to play out. Stonex’s descriptions and prose related to the coast appeared to be the book’s standout feature. The prose was descriptive and flowery, but it helped me picture the dangerous beauty of the treacherous Cornish coast. Likewise, if you are not familiar with the life a lighthouse keeper, particularly in the days before these towers were automated, The Lamplighters does explain it all. The laborious tasks, monotony, loneliness and possible descent into madness based on the isolation of this offshore career is outlined. Stonex also explores the impact on the loved ones left behind for weeks at time and the emotional toll this takes on three wives left on the home front. This made for an insightful read.
The Lamplighters is a novel divided over two timelines. The first timeline covers the events of the disappearance in 1972 and the second travels forward in time to the 1990s where a writer interviews the three still grieving wives of the keepers. I appreciated this structure, but this is where I faltered with the novel. I couldn’t connect the dots, I struggled with the different viewpoints offered by the interviews and all the other threads included in this novel seemed to overwhelm me. I wasn’t sure if all these different threads were designed to give an overall picture of events, or they were planted as red herrings to perplex the reader. Either way, I felt confused with what I was being presented with. I did value the supernatural direction this novel shifted to, it didn’t seem to bother me, as a I do like a solid gothic tale. Other readers have expressed their dislike of this narration deviation, but I don’t think this was my problem at all. I think it was simply of case of being too much for me at the time of reading.
If you appreciate stories about lighthouses and the work of a keeper of these sea towers, The Lamplighters may be a book that appeals. Although it was a mixed response read for me, it may be worth picking up and forming your own impression of this title.
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex was published on 9th March 2021 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Lamplighters, Emma Stonex, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.