They say we’ll never know what happened to those men.
They say the sea keeps its secrets…
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 . . .
The Lamplighters is a heart-stopping mystery rich with the salty air of the Cornish coast, and an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Lamplighters!
Truth be told, I’ve always been fascinated by lighthouses – a fascination I apparently have in common with Emma Stonex. I couldn’t tell you why but lighthouses have always held a special allure. Yet I’ve never really thought about lighthouse keepers. Before electronics and automation, who were the people who lit the lamps and kept them burning through the night? The Lamplighters, although fiction, offers a glimpse into the life of lamplighters in the most severe circumstances: isolated in a tower on a rock for weeks on end.
The Lamplighters alternates between 1972 and 1992, each cut into shorter chapters from the POV of the three keepers (1972) and their wives (1992).
In 1972, three lighthouse keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, surrounded by nothing but sea. The door locked, clocks stopped, three men gone without a trace.
Twenty years later, a writer is determined to solve the mystery of the vanished lamplighters. He contacts their wives, urging them to tell their story. And while they do so, the author remains elusive. We never hear him speak, we don’t know his actual name, only his alias, and so he’s an enigma for the longest time, making me wonder quite a few times: who the hell is he?!
In terms of the main mystery, i.e. the vanishing of the keepers, The Lamplighters is a slowburner. (Yes, you do have to wait until the very ending to find out.) However, on route to the truth about what happened at the lighthouse, there are tons of small reveals to keep the momentum going. The more we get to know these people, the keepers and their wives, the more secrets come to light.
Frankly, my dears, I feel somewhat lost at sea. I don’t know how to capture my feelings for this book in words. I do know, however, that whatever I write, I won’t do it justice. The Lamplighters starts out as a fairly ordinary mystery. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it from the start, it tickled me, especially knowing that it was inspired by an actual event, and I loved Emma Stonex’s writing, bordering on lyrical, which really works for this story and in this setting.
However, when I reached the end I realised there was nothing fairly ordinary about it. I found it had bewitched me, it had put a spell on me and turning that last page felt like waking from a dream. I absolutely adore the direction Emma Stonex took this in, with so much feeling and so much respect and so much eye for detail.
A heady mix of love and loss, drama and mystery and the quirks of human nature, The Lamplighters is a brilliant mystery, shining a light on a profession that no longer exists but still speaks to the imagination. Highly recommended.
The Lamplighters is out now in hardcover, audio and digital formats, go and grab yourself a copy!
Huge thanks to Camilla Elworthy and Picador Books for sending me a gorgeous proof copy! All opinions are still my own.