They say we’ll never know what happened to those men.
They say the sea keeps its secrets . . .
‘A mystery, a love story and a ghost story, all at once. I didn’t want it to end’ – S J Watson
Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, 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. The tide shifts 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. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them 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 by Emma Stonex is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.
The Lamplighters was one of those novels where the buzz surrounding it had and still is prevalent on my twitter feed and then it landed on my doorstep with the most wonderful cover and I had to bump it to the top of my toppling TBR pile. I entered a world of lighthouses and the men who used to man them, completely immersed in the story of their mysterious disappearance.
First off, the research by Stonex was impeccable from the beautiful descriptions of the Maiden lighthouse to the lives of the men that lived on them. You got a real sense of the cramped conditions, of the order that was needed and the constant changing of shifts to ensure the lamp stayed lit and foghorn blared out intermittently to warn shipping.
Perhaps the crux of the lifestyle was the loneliness the men could feel, cut off from the outside world, only each other for company, thoughts and emotions magnified. You didn’t know what effect this would have on Arthur, Bill and Vince and their mysterious disappearance until Stonex unraveled not only their lives but those they left onshore.
The unraveling was marvelous, words, sentences skillfully dropped into the narrative, clues to what may have happened, secrets hidden, the reader captivated as famous author, Dan, approached the three wives and girlfriend some 20 years later, determined on solving the mystery of the disappearing lighthouse keepers.
And what of those lighthouse men and their wives, who were they? Arthur, Principle Lighthouse Keeper, married to Helen, the man responsible for the safety of his fellow keeper and the lighthouse itself. He was the older statesmen but you sensed a man lost, a fractured marriage, something left unsaid between himself and Helen that we couldn’t quite put our finger on. Helen was for me the most likeable, the most sensible, the one who was able to deal with Arthur’s disappearance in a rational manner.
Bill, assistant keeper, was for me, the least likeable, dismissive of his wife, Jenny, unhappy with his life, who wanted something different, but again what was that, what did Stonex have in store for him. Jenny, his wife, was one of those frustrating characters that you wanted to bring out of her downtrodden status, one which you felt she largely brought on herself. Her constant complaining to Bill, her unsuitability as the wife of a light house keeper and the endless days on her own with three children was hard, but then she never seemed to do anything to help herself. After their disappearance she was the one who always thought he would come back, who never moved away just in case, whose life largely stood still.
Vince the supernumerary Keeper, Stonex’s wildcard, a criminal record, the person who seemed most likely to be responsible for their disappearance. He was the one I liked the most, a man who looked to start again, who saw a new future with his girlfriend Michelle. He brought a lightness, a carefree feeling to the novel, he cut through the staid serious air of Arthur and Bill. Michelle didn’t appear much, but you knew she loved him, his disappearance hit hard, but she knew she had to move on to forge a life, that may not have satisfied her, but was necessary. I felt that she had the most to lose as Dan dug around in the past, as she pushed him away afraid of the emotions it stirred and the impact it may have had on her husband and family.
Stonex flitted effortlessly between the past and the present, 1972, and 1992, the voices of her characters loud and insightful, their emotions and psyche slowly laid bare to the reader. I felt as if I were doing a giant jigsaw as I began to piece the clues, the signs together, a picture that slowly emerged, the fog that cleared around the lighthouse itself.
The men appeared to spiral into a form of paranoia, the dynamics changed and a gulf widened between them. Grudges against actions onshore crept in as Stonex led us to a spine chilling and a hold your breath conclusion.
It was almost the opposite to their wives, as twenty years later what once pushed them apart appeared to begin to push them together, secrets unfurled, assumptions crumbled and you hoped that they found answers and indeed closure.
I appear to have rambled, but I could not stop myself as The Lamplighters ticked every box that I want to see in a novel. It was multilayered, multi dimensional and you had to applaud Stonex’s ability to mix a thrilling mystery with the human frailties of a truly wonderful cast of characters. Ripe for dramatisation and already one of my novels of 2021.
I would like to thank Picador for a copy of The Lamplighters to read and review and to Midas PR for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Emma Stonex is a novelist who has written several books under a pseudonym. The Lamplighters is her debut under her own name and has been translated into more than twenty languages. Before becoming a writer, she worked as an editor at a major publishing house. She lives in the Southwest with her family.