Book Club, Fiction, Mystery

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

Book club is back! We have a new name, again, but now that I have a new bookstore to work at, I’m hoping this one will be the one to stick. We’ve had some major shuffling in the last two and a half years – countless virtual meetings, a false start in July, and now finally, a new home and in person meetings once more!


From the publisher marketing:
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. And the clocks have all stopped at 8:45.

Two decades later, the keepers’ wives are visited by a writer 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.

It’s the small things that keep a marriage going: things that don’t cost a lot but that tell the other person you love them and don’t ask for anything in return.

Click on this graphic to explore the book page on LibraryThing!


This book was one of our book club members’ summer staff picks at the old store and she was particularly excited for us to read it for book club. The meeting only had three of us, but I’m hopeful that as we get back into the swing of things that more people will join us. We were, somewhat delightfully, split in our opinions – one loved it (the aforementioned enthusiast), one found it interesting and a new type of read, and I was, admittedly, less than enthused.

The Lamplighters is a slow read. It doesn’t shy from this, but when you just want to read it and get it done (at less than 300 pages I thoroughly anticipated a faster read), it can definitely drag on. Told in alternating view point chapters, we have, for ease of explanation, the women’s chapters in the “present” (1990s) and the men’s chapters in the past (1970s). The men, the lighthouse keepers, POV chapters are written as if they were their own journals in first person and the women’s, the wives and girlfriends they left behind, are in third person except for when they are talking to an author about a book he is writing into the disappearance of the men.

Part locked-room mystery, part domestic thriller, it’s hard to buy into the slow burn built of tension the author asks us too. Not until the very end do we actually have a resolution to what happens to our lighthouse keepers (who no one other than them know) so we have just under 300 pages of slowly working through the details of the two weeks before they disappeared. 

The women, and their families, never do find out what happens to the keepers. Normally I don’t love a story without a resolution like this, but I will say, Emma wrote the ending so beautifully that it’s almost worth reading just for that, and overall, it is very well written, just slow. We collectively liked the slow reveal of some of the personal-life details, some were predictable, some had an alternate take than we originally assumed which was a nice twist to keep us on our toes.Overall, I don’t think I was the right audience for The Lamplighters. I am glad I read it, though, as it did bring me out of my normal reading comfort zone, and I do love a good lighthouse or sea story!

Rating: 6 out of 10

Click this image to visit the book page on my Bookshop page!

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