The Lamplighters By Emma Stonex – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 4th March 2021

I’ve always been drawn to novels based on real events of the past and this book was no exception. When I read the blurb of The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex I knew it would be right up my street.

In December 1900, three lighthouse keepers disappeared from a remote lighthouse on an island in the Outer Hebrides, The Lamplighters is inspired by this event.

Cornwall, 1972 and three keepers mysteriously vanish from the Maiden Rock Lighthouse. The three men Arthur Black (Principal Keeper) William (Bill) Walker and Vincent Bourne quite literally vanish from the locked from the inside lighthouse leaving behind a dinner table set for an uneaten meal, and two clocks stopped at the exact same time, as the only clues.

They were never found and their disappearance became something of a local legend. Twenty years later an author is now interested in writing a book about the event and seeks out the partners left behind to get their take on the vanishing. The three women left behind should have cleaved to each other in their joint grief and distress, however these women have fractured relationships with each other and react very differently to the probing of the author.

Their lives back then were riddled with secrets and heartaches. But just how much are they willing to reveal twenty years later….

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this book for me was the detail involved in describing not only the isolated backdrop of the lighthouse, the rough seas, the rocky terrain but the depiction of lighthouse life.

‘Freezing water splurges across a sunken warren of rocks; when the sea fills up the rocks disappear; when it drops, they emerge like black, glistening molars…’

We gain a detailed insight into the isolation that these men faced during their time on the rock in their working lives. The routines they build up between the three of them, the tasks each man takes on, the way they work together as a team. Most interestingly in my opinion was the delicate balance of personalities. Imagine being stuck in a lighthouse for weeks on end with the same two people….if there is even the slightest clash of personalities, of rubbing up the wrong way or of mismatched values or work ethics there is very little you can do about it.

‘When Bill first came to the Maiden, I thought, hows this going to go? Some men open up to you and others don’t. Bill was quiet, contained….

‘There’s lots of time for talk, especially on middle watch, midnight to four, when you find your conversations going down all sorts of dark alleys that you never mention again come the morning. Whoever’s coming off watch before you will get you up, fetch you tea and a plate of cheese and digestive biscuits and bring it all up to the lantern, where he’ll sit with you for an hour before going off to his bed. He’ll do this to wake you up, get your brain engaged so you don’t fall back asleep when you’re there on your own. When it’s Bill and me, he’ll tell me things he’ll wish he hadn’t in the light of day….’

The mystery at the heart of this novel is in itself fascinating not least because it’s based on a true story but there are also the secrets and lies surrounding the characters to draw you in.

The writing is descriptive and flows beautifully and you really fe like you’re there at the lighthouse. I was right to be excited for this one and I’m equally as excited to read more of Emma Stonex work in the future.

If you like a mystery with interesting and compelling characters, you need to get your hands on this one.

Thank you to the publisher as always for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

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