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The Lamplighters

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Inspired by a haunting true story, a gorgeous and atmospheric novel about the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a remote tower miles from the Cornish coast--and about the wives who were left behind

What strange fate befell these doomed men? The heavy sea whispers their names. Black rocks roll beneath the surface, drowning ghosts. And out of the swell like a finger of light, the salt-scratched tower stands lonely and magnificent.

It's New Year's Eve, 1972, when a boat pulls up to the Maiden Rock lighthouse with relief for the keepers. But no one greets them. When the entrance door, locked from the inside, is battered down, rescuers find an empty tower. A table is laid for a meal not eaten. The Principal Keeper's weather log describes a storm raging round the tower, but the skies have been clear all week. And the clocks have all stopped at 8:45.

Two decades later, the wives who were left behind are visited by a writer who is determined to find the truth about the men's disappearance. Moving between the women's stories and the men's last weeks together in the lighthouse, long-held secrets surface and truths twist into lies as we piece together what happened, why, and who to believe.

In her riveting and suspenseful novel, Emma Stonex writes a story of isolation and obsession, of reality and illusion, and of what it takes to keep the light burning when all else is swallowed by dark.


352 pages, Paperback

First published March 4, 2021

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About the author

Emma Stonex

1 book327 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,908 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,707 reviews25k followers
January 25, 2021
For this novel, Emma Stonex takes inspiration from the Eilean Mor lighthouse mystery on the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides in 1900 where lighthouse keepers disappeared. She shifts the location and time to Cornwall in 1972 where at Maiden Rock, 3 lighthouse keepers disappear, in the odd circumstances where the inside locks are on and the clocks have stopped. There is the assumption that the men were swept away by the sea, but other theories and rumours abound. In 1992, 3o years later, a writer interviews the wives and girlfriends of the men, Helen, Jenny and Michelle, women who might have found comfort in coming together to assuage their grief, but instead splintered apart.

In a unsettling, tense and atmospheric narrative that shifts between the men in 1972 and the women in 1992, the author explores the psychological impact of the place, the isolation of being a lighthouse keeper and the grief the women experience. All had separate secrets that are slowly revealed amidst the evocative and rich descriptions of the seas and location. The difficult relationships between the men, Arthur Black, William 'Bill' Walker and Vince Bourne, are portrayed as the dynamics shift between them. There is the strange account in Arthur's log of a big storm yet the seas had been calm at the time. This is a beautifully written mystery, a story of love, loss, fear, betrayal, deception, and grief, tinged with the supernatural.

Stonex's novel is informative and insightful about the demands and challenges of being a lighthouse keeper, and the highlight for me is the detailed and complex relationships between the various characters. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC.
July 2, 2022
The Lamplighters is based on a real mystery where three men working in a lighthouse went missing. The door was locked from the inside, the table was laid for two, and the clocks were all stopped on the same time. The book tells a fictional tale based on this.

I had no idea that the real mystery had happened! This is the kind of book that sends me down a googling wormhole. Sometimes the best mysteries an author can create are those based on real events. I absolutely loved the setting of the lighthouse. It was so unique and felt particularly atmospheric and vivid. It actually made me want to go inside a lighthouse, to experience what the characters experienced.

I liked that the timeline jumped between when the men went missing and 20 years into the future, with the lasting effect it had left. I also loved the chapters where their wives were speaking to the author, I’ve never read anything quite like that before. My only complaint was that I struggled in general with the writing style. I was unwell when I read this book so it’s possible that this affected my reading. But, I couldn’t get fully immersed in the book because the writing style didn’t suit me personally. That being said, I really enjoyed the ending and felt very moved, this definitely boosted my feelings on the book a little!

I recommend this to any fans of real life mysteries with a fictional twist. I had fun reading this with my friend as we passed around ideas about the mystery.
Profile Image for Jayme.
1,189 reviews2,251 followers
March 20, 2021
All three of the Maiden House lighthouse keepers have vanished.
The clocks have both stopped at 8:45
The table is set for a meal for two, not three
The log entries tell of a storm, not recorded elsewhere
The tower is Bolted shut-from the inside

Author Dan Sharp is writing a book hoping to solve the Maiden Rock Mystery
Trident House says the case is closed and won’t speak of it.
The wives who should’ve have bonded together over this incident are estranged and only one is talking.

This book appealed to me because I LOVE atmospheric stories, and a bit of Supernatural. The mystery of what might have occurred was intriguing.

But this book is actually HISTORICAL FICTION-based on lighthouse keepers Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald MacArthur, who disappeared from a remote rock light on the island of Eilean Mor in the outer Hebrides in December of 1900. It in NO WAY implies that these characters resemble the real men or that this is what actually happens, but imagines a story based on this event.

An unsolved mystery based on a real event

The doctored log book which also noted the “low spirits” of the men and stopped clock are fact, as was the discovery of a set of oilskins apparently not worn, despite the reported storm, according to information shared by the National Maritime Museum (www.rmg.co.uk )

The Flannan Isle Mystery was also the basis for the 2019 film, “The Vanishing”

So, if you are looking for a Supernatural story, based on the first paragraph, as I was-you will need to LOOK elsewhere-this is NOT that kind of book.

BUT-if you are intrigued by this real bit of history and would like to read this author’s idea of what might have occurred-this story is fascinating, though a bit DRY in its story telling style.

⚠️ The gratuitous killing of a dog is briefly described.

3.5 rounded up

Available now!
Profile Image for Carolyn Walsh .
1,540 reviews595 followers
June 2, 2021
4.5 Stars. I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Canada for this atmospheric and haunting book. Its author, Emma Stonex, was inspired by the mysterious, unsolved disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 from a lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides. Interesting accounts of this true disappearance can be found by googling the Eilean Mor lighthouse.

This fictional novel moves the event to a Cornwell lighthouse in the Atlantic, miles from the shore. In 1972, three keepers vanished from Maiden Lighthouse under mysterious circumstances. The detailed description of the sea was enthralling. In vivid, rich prose, it describes the coldness, the grey sky and ocean, its churning waves, the fog, mist, howling wind, and the tossing of the supply vessel. I could almost taste the salty sea air and felt momentarily on the verge of seasickness.

The book emphasizes the importance of the three lighthouse keepers' personalities, their ability to get along or at least tolerate their differences. It is a lonely, solitary life spending long periods of time away from wives and girlfriends. The longing for their loved ones on land must be endured, or for some, their isolation may come as a relief. Secrets and deceptions emerge that leads to anger, resentment, and even madness with a supernatural element.

Those on the supply ship in 1972 find an empty, abandoned lighthouse, a heavy door locked from the inside, a table set for only two, and clocks stopped at the same hour. Even stranger, the Principal Keeper's log indicates a fearsome, raging storm when the weather was calm. What was the fate of the three men?

Twenty years later, in 1992, their women are struggling with sorrow, abandonment, and resentment over the lack of answers from the company's investigations. They have not found any closure for the tragedy. A well-known author of fictional naval thrillers intends to write his first non-fiction book on the disappearances and hopes he can solve the mystery. As he interviews the women, he explores their feelings, and he uncovers long-held secrets, emotions of love and loss, deceptions, anger, betrayal and grief. They admit their feelings towards their men who vanished. Women who should have formed a sympathetic and friendly union after the tragedy were driven further apart afterwards. The book portrays their unfulfilled, often lonely lives and their struggles to move on.

I don't think I have ever read a book that so vividly describes the chill of the North Atlantic, its storms, the raging ocean, loneliness, and the dynamics of people living in isolated close quarters. I felt I had more questions than answers at the end of this compelling, intriguing novel. Well done!
Shelved as 'dnf'
April 30, 2021
I love unsolved mysteries and true crime so I was eager to read this book knowing it was based on a true story.

Unfortunately the multiple characters and the writing style, which was very detached, made me lose interest very quickly. Not for me!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
March 4, 2021
Miles off the Cornish coast sits Maiden Rock lighthouse. Maiden Rock is what they call a tower lighthouse, meaning there is not actual property attached, just a twenty foot concrete base. In 1972, after a weather delay of several days, Jody is bringing supplies and a relief man to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is manned by three men, Arthur who is the principal, Bill and a younger man named Vince. When, however, Jody arrives, there is no one there to greet him. Sounding the alarm, a team arrives to investigate to find all three men missing, the clocks all set to the same time, andthe door barred from the inside. What happened to these men?

Twenty years later a best selling author wants to solve the mystery. He talks to the women left behind and we hear from the men themselves. All hold different parts of the story, things the know, that need to be put together. We also, and I enjoyed this, learn about how the men lived, worked, the setup of their living spaces.

Character oriented, this is an atmospheric undertaking, a slow, quiet mystery. For me it was an immersive read. A real story of missing keepers from the 1900s in Scotland from the Flannan Island lighthouse was the impetus for this story.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Libby.
594 reviews156 followers
July 5, 2021
A mesmerizing story by Emma Stonex about three lighthouse keepers who vanish in 1972 from Maiden Rock Lighthouse, fifteen miles off the coast of Cornwall. In 1992, an author brings the old mystery back to life when he questions the wives and girlfriend of the missing men for a book he wants to write. Secrets that have been buried for twenty years come to the fore. With themes of regret, loneliness, lack of communication within relationships, and the consequences of guilt, Stones probes these lives with psychological insight. A subtle haunting adds an eerie quality. Stonex manages to make descriptions of the supernatural feel as natural as observations of the sea in all its vagaries.

The impossibility of knowing a person fully is also a theme. Do I know what this man or woman I love is truly capable of? Is there a darker side? Perhaps even tending toward violence? Does solitude exacerbate untoward symptoms of dysfunction? Will loneliness and the absence of communication send grief spiraling toward a violent destination? These are all questions that Stones explores, probing the behavior of people who don’t understand their frailties, their absolute limits.

Principal Keeper Arthur Black thinks, ‘It’s disorienting to hear about things in the real world, the other world. That world could cease to be and for a time we’d be none the wiser. I’m not sure I need that world. Any city, any town, any room wider than the length of two men lying down, seems frivolous with light and noise and unnecessarily complicated.’ I have to agree with Arthur that the world feels clogged up and unnecessarily complicated. What he says here is how I sometimes feel when I don’t consume news. Then when I catch up, I ask myself, why did you want to do that? You were better off before you knew what was going on in the world. Of all the men, Arthur feels the lure of Maiden Rock and enjoys the solitude. He loves Helen, his wife, but thinks she’s capable, independent.

William “Bill” Walker is Assistant Keeper. He’s younger, has small children at home, and doesn’t seem to be ‘in love’ with his wife, Jenny. Jenny is emotionally needy but also supportive of her husband. After twenty years, Jenny thinks that Bill may still come home.

Supernumerary Assistant Keeper Vincent Bourne has spent time in prison. Vincent knows this job is a chance at a clean start. Will specters from his past rise up to dog his steps? Will he fall back into old patterns that lead to a path he no longer desires? In 1992, Michelle, has carved out a married life and has two daughters, but remembers Vincent as her ‘one true love.’

The portrayal of these characters and relationship dynamics is a major strength of Stonex’s writing. In the claustrophobic lighthouse setting, it’s crucial that the men all get along. In rotating schedules, they are there for eight weeks, home for four, repeat. Bad weather keeps Bill’s relief man from coming. The next day, when the team rows the relief man out, they are met with an impossible mystery. Beautiful prose and magnificent storytelling! I’ve read many positive reviews of this novel on Goodreads but it was my friend, Daniel Shindler’s review, that made me determined to read this one. Thank you, Daniel, for a fabulous introduction to such a meaningful story!

Link to Daniel’s Review:
January 2, 2022
A story told in two timelines, the lives of three families shattered over the disappearance of three men who work at the Maiden Rock Lighthouse, fifteen miles from land. The men, Arthur Black, the Principal Keeper, Assistant Keeper, Bill Walker and Supernumerary Vincent Bourne, go missing without a trace.

The discovery was made when a relief keeper arrived to relieve Bill Walker, the lighthouse door was locked from the inside and a meal was set for two people, not for the three Keepers who resided there. Roll forward to 1992 and author Dan Sharp is writing a story about the missing lighthouse men, drawing on the stories and insights from the three women left behind. However, as he digs into the past, more is revealed about the lives, secrets, and transgressions of the three men and in the present the women have an uneasy and strained relationship.

This was a solid story with good characterisation that was inspired by real events which made the story all the more unnerving, upsetting, and mysterious. The insights into the family loss was palatable as you read through the pages and their questions went unanswered, leaving each of the families to speculate, accuse the others of some wrong doing and live their lives knowing they would never find the answers or bring back their loved ones.

I liked it but did not love it.
Profile Image for Kay ☼.
2,032 reviews764 followers
April 24, 2021
Overall The Lamplighters was a 3⭐ read with the ending slightly higher, but not quite four stars.

Let's just say I've been intrigued by the real mystery which this novel is based on. The disappearance of three lighthouse keepers of Flannan Isles in 1900. Vanished without a trace. It's kinda spooky isn't it? There are many speculations of what happened. Giant sea creatures, birds, ghosts or pirates. I agree with the official records that they drowned, fell into the ocean from violent waves. Some assumptions lean toward loneliness that drove one of them crazy. These men were retired sailors and one a captain. 🤔 Being on the island on a six-week rotation isn't that long.... But insanity theory does make a better story like in the film The Lighthouse (2019).

The Lamplighters story is set in 1970s and on a different island. I didn't enjoy this book as much as I hoped. It was the six POVs, three keepers and three wives (interview). I was mostly captivated by what happened on the island so almost half the book with wives were less interesting and dry.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
296 reviews2,166 followers
May 2, 2021
The Lamplighters is a locked room mystery—or rather ‘locked lighthouse’, the kind only accessible by boat—with gothic vibes and a moody 1970s Cornwall setting. Three lighthouse keepers vanish without trace… did an accident do them in, or was it foul play? Or maybe ghosts? Or Cornish pixies?

This was a fun read, mostly. A complicated puzzle like this one needs a satisfying solution—one that honours the clues that have been laid down and fits them neatly together. I can’t spoil the ending but it didn’t quite land for me. My reaction wasn’t ‘No fair!’, it was more like ‘Huh.’ In order to create red herrings (and, uh, green herrings?) the author kept adding new details until the story became unwieldy.

An enjoyable book but the ending let it down. 3 stars.

PS. While I don’t expect a lighthouse keeper to be an expert in marine biology, you’d think someone raised by the ocean would know better than to say this:
‘…I like the idea of that shell being returned to the sea. All that travelling over millions of years, all that effort, rolling in the grind of the prehistoric wash, only to be spat up on a distant shore…’

Or this:
‘[Sharks are] cool torpedoes of blubber, sliced at the gills, equipped with teeth. Fat and teeth, that’s the thing. Needles in a bowl of curd.’

Seashells are not millions of years old. Sharks do not have blubber, they are cold blooded! These don't read like intentional mistakes (this character is afraid of the ocean, but not ignorant), so what’s up with these bizarro factoids?
Profile Image for Pat.
2,310 reviews428 followers
June 9, 2021
This is a hard book for me to review. I really enjoyed it but I’m having trouble expressing how I felt about it. It’s one of those quiet books that builds slowly and then throws something shocking at you. The story, while totally fictional was inspired by real events. Three lighthouse keepers actually disappeared mysteriously in 1900. In this story three lighthouse keepers disappeared from the tower lighthouse, called the Maiden, in 1972. A tower is a lighthouse built on a base of rocks in the sea. It’s not on a headland or on an island - the only way on or off the lighthouse is by boat.

In the last days of 1972 the relief boat for the Maiden is days late as the weather has been too wild to approach the treacherous rocks on which the tower is built. When the boat finally arrives to swap out the crew there is no one to welcome it. The heavy steel door is bolted closed from the inside and there is no sign of life. They have to call for equipment to break in. When they do they find no one, no bodies, no clues. The two clocks have both stopped at 8:45. The table is set for a meal for two (when the complement of keepers is always three). It is indeed a mystery, one that endures for twenty years as no sign of the three men - principal keeper Arthur Black, assistant keeper Bill Walker and supernumerary Vince Bourne ever surfaces again. It is written off by the Trident Institution, which manages the lighthouses, as an accident - the men all apparently drowned. But questions remain.

In 1992 a writer, Dan Sharp, approaches the wives of Arthur and Bill, and Vince’s girlfriend at the time. He writes adventure stories based on the sea but now he wants to write about the disappearances from the Maiden.

Although no one actually knows what happened, through the interviews with the women and some literary licence, Dan poses the story of what might have occurred. What Dan learns raises a whole lot of new questions. It wasn’t all sweet with the families, there were rivalries and jealousies and misunderstandings. On the part of the men, subjected to long periods of isolation there were also issues.

What ensues is a story about a descent into obsession and madness, a jealousy and dissatisfaction and a fear of retribution. Everyone has secrets and no one is innocent. These are the kindling but what provided the spark that sets it all off? How all this came about and how it played out in the tragedy of the disappearance I will leave for readers to discover for themselves. There is also a mysterious other player - was he real or not? Who was he? Did he have anything to do with the drama that would unfold?

So, not really a thriller but a somewhat dark and brooding, claustrophobic drama that I found very compelling and interesting. It provided a wonderful insight into the hardships endured by those hardy souls who manned the lighthouses that kept sailors safe. These days the lighthouses are all (or mostly all) automated. I was interested in this book because one of my first ever jobs (many years ago) was in organising the crew changes for the lighthouse vessels that re-supplied Australian lighthouses with men and equipment. I don’t think we had any towers as described in the book though.
Profile Image for Rob Twinem.
853 reviews37 followers
February 13, 2021
Probably going against the majority of reivews but this book did not really excite and entertain me. What was I expecting? To me a fair comparison would be the 2019 movie The Lighthouse starring William Defoe and Robert Pattinson....2 lighthouse keepers who begin to descend into madness when a storm strands them on the remote island where they are stationed. I could clearly feel the horror of what was happening it was frighteningly atmospheric. The author of The Lamplighters in no way excited me with her storytelling as she rambled on about the lives of the 3 keepers and the women who waited patiently for their return, told in 2 timelines. There was an illicit affair and the sad death of a child but she failed miserably to bring alive the terror that such an isolated setting should produce. This could just as easily have been a story of 3 miners, 3 deep sea divers, 3 murderers.....the list is endless. The Shining by Stephen King and The Silent Land by Graham Joyce are 2 great examples where the respective authors allowed the reader to feel the horror and madness that resulted from isolation and inclement weather. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.
Profile Image for Ingrid.
1,259 reviews53 followers
June 22, 2021
3.5 stars
It's an atmospheric story about three lamplighters who disappear from their lighthouse without a trace. The men tell their story and their wives tell theirs. Slowly a possibility unfolds.
Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 6 books17.5k followers
February 4, 2021
3.5 stars. An interesting book and I've always been fascinated about the story that this was lightly based on. It went off on a lot of tangents that didn't always go anywhere but I still really enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,470 reviews1,005 followers
January 23, 2021
Blimey that was an excellent, atmospheric read with a classic locked room mystery at the heart of it, a mystery that came from a real life event you can read about here.

That’s the inspiration but Emma Stonex imagines her own set of events and characters and it is absolutely addictive, often very creepy and with some beautiful writing.

I was completely engaged with this which is a deep character driven drama of many layers. A bit Russian doll like, unraveling a layer at a time, slowly you come to an understanding of sorts, it leaves you melancholy and thoughtful.

The characters here are so well drawn, the reader develops an emotional connection with them early on so right from the first chapter you are absolutely hooked in to this narrative.

I loved it. This is the kind of writing and storytelling that I adore. Talented, intelligent, imaginative and beautiful. Highly Recommended .
Profile Image for Daniel Shindler.
264 reviews80 followers
January 14, 2023
In 1900 three lighthouse keepers disappeared from the Eilean Mor lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides. They were never found and there has been no explanation for their vanishing. In a well constructed novel, Emma Stonex reimagines this event by transposing the time to 1972 and the location to the rugged coast of Cornwall.The result is a multi layered novel that fuses atmosphere and mystery with personal and societal psychology.

The plot is carried forward in two time periods, 1972 and 1992. The 1972 period explores the inner thoughts of the three light keepers and slowly reveals their individual personalities, backstories and interactions with each other and their wives and girlfriends.Their voices interweave with each other in an almost musical tapestry to reveal their isolation, loneliness and ability to cope with the awe inspiring natural force of the sea. The 1992 timeline focuses on the women who have been left behind and their evolving ability to cope with grief and loss as well as their retrospective reflections on their relationships to their lost loved ones as well as to each other.

This narrative construct creates a slowly evolving mosaic of secrets, anxieties and personality developments that reveal the inner core of each of the protagonists. The development of their individual personalities comes slowly and subtly.As I read, I formed an image of Salome tantalizingly removing her seven veils. At times I agonized for a quicker reveal but resolved to lay back and let the story come to me.

Two external forces loom over the narrative and add an aura of tension to the story.The first force is the sea. In the opening sequence, we are reminded of the sea’s power and capriciousness through the description of a difficult shore landing of a relief boat.All the characters spend their lives influenced by their proximity to this majestic natural force.Their relationships, sense of self and well being are periodically influenced by the vagaries of a force beyond their control.The second external force is the influence of Trident House, the controlling administrators for the lighthouse enterprise.Although more subtly portrayed in the novel, we are reminded that the protagonists live in a company controlled town. This entity determines the living arrangements,life shifts and social hierarchy governing the lives of each of the men and women in this story.They live in company owned houses that place them close together yet constrict the range of their emotional responses to each other.Also looming over their lives is the light from the tower. This light stands as a beacon that marks time in their lives and possibly offers a glimmer of hope.The interplay of these factors present a portrait of an insular but multi dimensional society that I will remember for a long time.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,217 reviews1,964 followers
September 3, 2022
2.75 stars
“In all my years I’ve realised 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.”
This is essentially a locked door mystery based on a true story. The original mystery concerns three lighthouse keepers who disappeared from a lighthouse off the Scottish coast in mysterious circumstances. A mystery which has never been solved. Stonex has moved the mystery to the Cornish Coast in 1972. Three missing keepers, clocks stopped at the same time, door locked from the inside, table set for two rather than three, a log recording a storm that didn’t happen: you get the picture. Twenty years later in 1992 a writer decides to investigate the mystery. He interviews the two wives and girlfriend of the three men. These accounts are interspersed with accounts from 1972 from the three men who disappeared: these read like journal accounts. Stonex gradually builds up the story by layers and the reader picks up the information necessary to solve the mystery very slowly. The company who own the lighthouse are singularly unhelpful.
One of the women sums up the stories that can collect around mysteries like this:
“I’ve heard it all, over the years. Arthur was abducted by aliens. He was murdered by pirates. He was blackmailed by smugglers. He killed the others, or they killed him, and then each other and then themselves—over a woman or a debt, or a washed-up treasure chest. They were haunted by ghosts or kidnapped by the government. Threatened by spies or gobbled by sea serpents. They went lunatic, one or all of them. They had secret lives no one knew about, riches buried on South American plantations you could only find by a cross on a map. They sailed off to Timbuktu and liked it so much they never came back… When that Lord Lucan disappeared two years down the line, there were those who said he’d gone to meet Arthur and the others on a desert island, presumably with the poor beggars who flew through the Bermuda Triangle.

I mean, honestly! I’m sure you’d prefer that, but I’m afraid it’s all ridiculous. We’re not in your world now, we’re in mine; and this isn’t a thriller, it’s my life.”

The cast of characters is pretty small and most of them are not particularly likeable. If you are looking for ghostly doings, horror or gothic you may be disappointed. Devotees of the mystery and crime genre may also be disappointed. I found the working out of this unconvincing, partly because it never seems to really make its mind up what it wants to be. I seem to be in a minority on this, so check it yourself if you feel so inclined.
Profile Image for Joseph.
477 reviews125 followers
April 17, 2021
In December 1900, the three keepers of the lighthouse on Eilean Mòr, one of the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides, disappeared without a trace. The lighthouse itself was found to be clean and in good shape, with no indication of any struggle or unusual occurrence. The only detail suggesting a hurried abandonment of the lighthouse, was the discovery of one set of oilskins, suggesting that one of the men – unlike the others – had left the lighthouse without them.

The Flannan Isles disappearance is one of the best-known sea-related mysteries. The most probable – and prosaic – explanation is that two of the keepers might have been carried out by freak waves during a storm, with the third suffering the same fate when he tried to assist his comrades. However, there is no lack of alternative theories – ranging from suggestions of a “double-homicide-and-suicide” to alien abduction.

The mystery has kept a hold on artists’ imagination. In 1912, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson wrote the ballad Flannan Isle, retelling the story with some artistic licence (the detail of an “overturned chair” is Gibson’s invention although it is often perceived to be true). The 2018 movie The Vanishing is based on the story, which is also referenced in the much-lauded The Lighthouse of the following year directed by Robert Eggers of The Witch fame. And, as a lover of classical music, I cannot fail to mention the “ghost opera” The Lighthouse by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, which reinterprets the mystery as a Gothic shocker featuring religious mania and a descent into madness.

The Flannan Isles mystery provides the inspiration for The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. Stonex draws from the real-life incident just the bare bones of the story (the unexplained disappearance of three keepers from a remote lighthouse) and a handful of the more intriguing details (such as the ‘stopped clocks’). Other than that however, she weaves her own tale, and it is definitely a compelling one.

The Lamplighters transposes the events to 1972 and sets them in a rock lighthouse, a “fifty-metre column of heroic Victorian engineering” known as the Maiden, standing out of the sea fifteen nautical miles off the Cornish coast. The lighthouse is manned by three keepers, Principal Keeper Arthur Black, assistant Keeper William ‘Bill’ Walker and Supernumerary Assistant Keeper Vincent ‘Vinny’ Bourne. Like their real-life counterparts, the trio go missing in December, with no obvious explanation to their disappearance. Twenty years later, a writer of nautical fiction decides to write a book about this mystery. The narrative alternates between two timelines – some chapters are set in 1972 and are written from the perspective of the individual keepers; others are set in 1992 and consist mainly of interviews with the author. Through this approach, Stonex teases out two different strands. One the one hand there is the account of the male-centred three-member community of the lighthouse. On the other hand, there is the counternarrative of the women these men left behind, whether during their spells at the lighthouse or, more definitively, following their disappearance.

Towards the end, the novel presents us with different possible solutions to the mystery, including the one which, it seems, we should take at face value since it is recounted by an omniscient, third-person narrator. Even then, however, an element of doubt remains: “We’re not sure of the truth, are we? Isn’t that the point? Some mysteries just aren’t meant to be known…”

While the mystery element drives the narrative forward, The Lamplighters is not primarily about that. Its strength lies in the description of the complex relationships between the small cast of characters, particularly the rivalry between Bill and Arthur and, in parallel, their wives Jenny and Helen. I also enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of the way of life of the lighthouse keepers. These are based on historical accounts, giving the novel a salty tang of authenticity. What I found less convincing are the attempts at including a supernatural element (including puzzling references to a mysterious “Silver Man”) in a novel which is primarily ‘realist’ in approach. Much as I enjoy supernatural fiction, I felt that the very human drama of three keepers trapped on a rock out at sea at the mercy of the elements is more than enough to give The Lamplighters a Gothic flavour, without the need to resort to ghostly apparitions.

Profile Image for Hilary .
2,261 reviews404 followers
September 15, 2021
Using the real life tragic event of three lighthouse keepers disappearing from a lighthouse in mysterious circumstances, this novel brings the event forward in time to the 1970s and gives different viewpoints and speculation as to what happened. The author said at the start that these events and people are not related to the real event in any way. I started off not liking the writing style much, I enjoyed the different viewpoints but the long one sided interviews of the characters distracted be from getting in to the story and forgetting I was reading. The mystery certainly did captivate me, there was a lot going on, many different characters, different childhood stories, different versions of events.

I felt the supernatural elements of the story didn’t fit as well as they could. One main event

There is one part that felt needlessly added and didn’t fit with the character of Vince, although Vince had his problems I can’t believe he This seemed needlessly gratuitous and out of character.

I also find it unrealistic in a story that everyone is

This was a gloomy book, but I did enjoy the descriptions of lighthouse life, the descriptions of the sea and the weather and the mystery was engaging.
Profile Image for Johann (jobis89).
672 reviews4,291 followers
March 22, 2021
4.5 stars. So beautiful and atmospheric. There’s just something about lighthouses that I love!! Full review to come.
Profile Image for Alan Cotterell.
521 reviews178 followers
October 23, 2020
Thank you to NetGalley, Pan Macmillan and the author for the chance to review.
I really liked the premise of this book when I requested it from Netgalley This is based on a true story, where all three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse 15 miles from the shore. The door is locked from the inside, the clocks have both stopped at the same time, the log records a mighty storm even though the skies have been clear all week. So, what happened?

I expected “The Lamplighters”, to be full of intrigue and mystery. However, I found this was a novel that divided me, I loved the storyline as told by the men isolated at the lighthouse, with some great descriptions really setting the scene. good making it easy to visualise the isolation and both the power and the beauty of the sea. But when the narrative changed to the women’s viewpoint, back on the mainland it didn't work quite so well, for some reason their characters never really took developed and it felt a little disjointed.

Part of the problem in my humble opinion is that it tries to be a bit of everything. A lot of the writing is truly beautiful the descriptions of the sea, are incredibly emotive. I also found the insights into the lives of the men, captivating and interesting. Unfortunately, part of what made this so wonderfully descriptive is also its downfall. I personally found there was just too many words, far more than were necessary. I’m sure others will love this book but for me it was a little disappointing.

Overall this is a mixed bag. I can't help but feel it just needs a little bit more work on it and it could become something excellent.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
754 reviews206 followers
April 13, 2021
The Lamplighters is a story based on real events (up to a point) about three lighthouse keepers in 1972 Cornwall who disappear from their lighthouse without a trace and with the lighthouse locked from the inside.

It’s a fluffed up locked-room mystery.

The first half of the book dragged quite a bit. We got to know the three lighthouse keepers but we also got to know wives and girlfriends who were left behind after the disappearance.

Each of the characters was broken in some way, which just added to feel of this book following on the same trend of cliched mystery novels of recent years. This was not unlike a Ruth Ware novel.
What really got on my nerves in the first half, however, was the constant – or really very frequent – hinting at dark secrets that would only be revealed in the second half of the book. It became stale very fast to be told by each of the characters that something happened in the past.
It was the typical “there was something nasty in the woodshed” moment and rather than making the story or characters more intriguing, it just made me guess several of the twists early on.
I have to admit that I even saw most of the ending coming.

So, from a mystery perspective, I don’t rate this book very highly. Certainly not as high as all of the 4* and 5* reviews out there.

There was something I really enjoyed in this book, however. For a debut novel, it was oozing with atmosphere and relevant details of life as a lighthouse keeper.

Also, I feel I should add a trigger warning: gratuitous cruelty to animals.
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 12 books2,150 followers
March 18, 2021
A really enjoyable literary mystery. Stonex's descriptions of storms and the sea are wonderful, in fact her sense of place in her writing is great, and I really felt what it was like inside the lighthouse. I liked the set-up of a locked-door mystery, with three men vanishing from a lighthouse, where the door to the outside is locked from the inside, the table is laid for a meal for two, and the all the clocks have stopped at the same time. Although I had an idea of what actually happened well before it was revealed, that didn't stop me hurrying through the pages.
Profile Image for Inna.
209 reviews77 followers
April 18, 2021
Хубаво и интригуващо написана книга за едно сиво-кафяво море, което отмена много...
Не се бях замисляла, че има фарове, при които не можеш да слезеш на сушата, дори и само на остров. Вече няма да гледам чак толкова романтично на тях.


Когато всеки ден си в морето, то взима това, което е в теб, и ти го показва в ярка светлина.

Край морето срещнах аз човек,
той ме попита с глас тъй мек:
виждаш ли, виждаш ли го там,
и аз видях: чер огън, син плам.
Сърцето ми го няма, рече той,
загубено е в морския прибой,
ще го намериш ли ти за мен,
аз не мога, без сърце сломен.
Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
609 reviews5,652 followers
August 13, 2021
An atmospheric, slow-moving, well-rounded mystery centered around a real-life disappearance of lighthouse keepers.

I greatly enjoyed the juxtaposition between the keepers, just before their disappearance, and their wives, still struggling to move on from this tragedy years later. The storylines blended together seamlessly and the ending caught me off guard and provided a satisfying conclusion that not a lot of mysteries tend to give.

This is perfect for fans of The Lighthouse (2019)
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 1, 2021
I pushed myself to read up to 45% and just could not go any further. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this story based on men missing from a lighthouse, I just found it dull and boring. It sounded like it had all the elements I love, but fell short sadly.
Profile Image for Amanda.
899 reviews253 followers
December 18, 2020
I love a good mystery and knowing this was based on a true story made this book stand out to me.

Three lighthouse men have disappeared whilst on shift at the lighthouse, the building is empty and they have vanished without a trace.

The story alternates between 1972 before the men disappeared and twenty years later where a writer is seeking to find out what happened to the three missing men.

The mens wives are interviewed and it soon becomes apparent that secrets have been withheld.

This book kept me intrigued as I tried to work out what happened to the lighthouse men and I loved reading about their jobs and what working on a lighthouse would be like.

Definitely an author I will look out for!!

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy in exchange for a review.
Profile Image for Elena.
766 reviews260 followers
March 25, 2022
Ein Leuchtturm an der Küste Cornwalls, kurz vor dem Jahreswechsel 1972: Die "Maiden" ist immer mit drei Männern besetzt, die das Licht im Leuchtturm am Brennen halten. Viele Wochen lang teilen sie sich den Turm, sie leben und arbeiten, ja wachsen zusammen. Doch in diesem Winter ist nichts so, wie es war - und am Tag des Schichtwechsels sind alle Drei spurlos verschwunden. Ob tragischer Unfall oder Mord wurde nie geklärt, die Umstände sind jedenfalls mysteriös: Alle Uhren sind zur gleichen Zeit stehen geblieben, der Tisch gedeckt aber unberührt und die Tür des Turms von Innen verschlossen. Zurück bleiben drei Frauen, die zwanzig Jahre später endlich ihre Geschichte erzählen dürfen: Von Lügen, von Verrat, von Trauer und von Einsamkeit.

Was für ein düsterer, mitreißender und spannender Roman! Emma Stonex hat mich mit ihrem Buch "Die Leuchtturmwärter", übersetzt von Eva Kemper, in ihren erzählerischen Sog gezogen. Atmosphärisch erzählt sie vom Leben der drei Leuchtturmwärter und dem ihrer Frauen, das voller Entbehrungen und Verlassenheit steckt, aber auch von tiefe Liebe geprägt ist. Sie gewährt den Lesenden einen Einblick in ein längst der Vergangenheit angehörendes, von der modernen Technik verdrängtes Berufsbild: Dem der Leuchtturmwärter. Die auf wahren Begebenheiten beruhende Geschichte um die drei verschollenen Wärter und die Zurückgezogenheit, in der die Männer auf dem Turm leben, bilden die perfekte Basis für eine stimmungsvolle wie fesselnde Geschichte.

Die Autorin erzählt ihren Roman auf zwei Zeitebenenen: 1972 in den Wochen vor dem Verschwinden der Leuchtturmwärter und 1992, als ein Romanautor sich aufmacht, für ein Buchprojekt die drei hinterbliebenen Frauen zu interviewen. Durch diese abwechselnden Perspektiven entwickelt die Geschichte eine sehr mitreißende Dynamik, die mich das Buch kaum zur Seite legen hat lassen. In Kombination mit dem sehr bildlichen Schreibstil von Emma Stonex und dem perfekt gewählten Schauplatz des Buches konnte ich mich ganz in den Zeilen fallen lassen.

Egal, ob ihr Lust auf einen atmosphärischen Pageturner habt oder eure Sehnsucht nach dem rauhen, schroffen Meer stillen wollt - "Die Leuchtturmwärter" wird euch sicher in seinen Bann ziehen!
April 27, 2021
Original review: I was so excited by this book's premise. Who doesn't love a locked room mystery, and one set on a creepy lighthouse in atmospheric Cornwall? Sign me up!
However, the book was a disappointment for me. The constant change of character viewpoint and timeliness without clear enough distinction of either just made this book very hard to get stuck into. The paragraphs were very literary and I found myself skimming them to get to the actual substance of the mystery itself. The mystery was intriguing and gripping, but it was a battle to get to. I know I'm in the minority, so I'm glad other readers could enjoy it.

Updated review after listening to the audiobook.
This was much more engaging, and this must be down to the narrator. She did the accents superbly and the personalities shone through.
I am still undecided about the mystery though, I still feel it was very vague in Stonex's verdict on what happened on the lighthouse, and maybe that was her intention. Very intriguing, but a little frustrating. I now have a much better opinion of the book.
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,854 reviews1,640 followers
March 4, 2021
The Lamplighters is a richly-atmospheric and stunning historical mystery inspired by a haunting true story, a gorgeous and atmospheric novel about the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a remote tower miles from the Cornish coast—and about the wives who were left behind. What strange fate befell these doomed men? The heavy sea whispers their names. Black rocks roll beneath the surface, drowning ghosts. And out of the swell like a finger of light, the salt-scratched tower stands lonely and magnificent. It's New Year's Eve, 1972, when a boat pulls up to the Maiden Rock lighthouse with relief for the keepers. But no one greets them. When the entrance door, locked from the inside, is battered down, rescuers find an empty tower. A table is laid for a meal not eaten. The Principal Keeper's weather log describes a storm raging round the tower, but the skies have been clear all week. And the clocks have all stopped at 8:45. Two decades later, the wives who were left behind are visited by a writer who is determined to find the truth about the men's disappearance. Moving between the women's stories and the men's last weeks together in the lighthouse, long-held secrets surface and truths twist into lies as we piece together what happened, why, and who to believe.

This is nothing short of a spectacular debut with an unforgettable mystery at its heart and written in some of the most exquisite prose I've encountered in a while. The mystery is a refreshingly original one and I found it impossible not to be swept up in its rich descriptions, the slow-burn unravelling of secrets and the exceptional characterisation; quite simply I was blown away by every aspect of this book. Told from the perspectives of the three wives whose husbands vanished never to be seen again, I was profoundly moved by the impact this mystery had on their lives, hopes and dreams for the future. Emma Stonex writes beautifully about the majesty of the sea and the powerful tides of loneliness and grief. The central mystery is utterly compelling, deepening and darkening as each lighthouse keeper’s secrets are revealed. Intoxicating, suspenseful and deeply moving, it’s an beguiling story of isolation, love, betrayal and obsession. This undoubtedy marks the beginning of a thrilling literary career. In this riveting and suspenseful novel, Emma Stonex writes a story of isolation and obsession, of reality and illusion, and of what it takes to keep the light burning when all else is swallowed by dark. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
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