Book review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

There is something about a lighthouse as a setting, with its gothic, cramped solitary creepiness, that makes the stark structure ideal for a whodunnit psychological horror.

In all my years I’ve realized there are two kinds of people. The ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, and shut the windows because it must have been the wind. And the ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, light a candle, and go to take a look.

In The Lamplighters, Emma Stonex’s debut novel three lighthouse keeper’s disappear in seemingly impossible circumstances. The Maiden Rock lighthouse is fifteen nautical miles southwest of Land’s End in the sea. When a boat arrives on New Year’s Eve 1972 to relieve the three men on duty, the lighthouse is empty, the door barred from the inside, the table set and the only two clocks stopped at eight forty-five. Twenty years later a writer of maritime adventure stories seeks out the wives of the lighthouse men to interview them for his book about the incident. Stonex was inspired to write The Lamp by the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers of the remote Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides in the early 20th century.

It felt like the more I read, the more free I was in my mind, and if you’re free in your mind, then it doesn’t matter what else is going on.

The story moves back and forth in time from before the disappearance to the present, slowly unpacking the secrets surrounding the incident and circling the truth in ever decreasing circles. Stonex drip feeds the reader, gradually pulling together the multiple threads of the story through the eyes of the six main characters, each differently impacted by the monotony and isolation of lighthouse life.

Nothing changed, in the aftermath of loss. Songs kept getting written. Books kept getting read. Wars didn’t stop…Life renewed itself, over and over, without sympathy. Time surged on in its usual rhythms, those comings and goings, beginnings and ends, sensible progressions that fixed things in place, without a thought to the whistling in the woods on the outskirts of town…

The Lamplighters is a novel with intricate plotting, well crafted characters, good tension and a mystery that will compel you to keep turning the pages.

Time gives you a bit of distance where you can look back on whatever’s happened to you and not feel all the feelings you once had; those feeling have calmed down and they’re not at the forefront of your mind in the way they are at the beginning.

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