I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Lamplighters to dive into (pun intended), and it was honestly a refreshing change up from my usual fantasy books. To start this off, I know absolutely nothing about Lighthouses. Yo girl lives in landlocked Colorado, so I find this as no surprise. In fact, my only exposure to any sort of Lighthouse lore was a puzzle with an image of a Maine lighthouse on it I received for Christmas one year, and a Scooby Doo episode in which the gang tries to solve a Lighthouse mystery. So, clearly I know nothing. Yet, as I turned the pages of this book, I was immersed in the Lamplighter life of old. I felt like I could see every detail of the Lighthouse, in and out, and the Cornish coast clear as day. I felt the wild untamed sea even though I have never visited England in real life (side note: great thing about reading? Traveling to so many cool places in your mind. Bad thing about reading? Your bucket list grows infinitely longer the more books you read *sigh*). The description was that strong within this book, and for that I give it several snaps. The Lamplighters tells the story of three Lamplighters who went missing from the Maiden Rock Lighthouse in 1972, and what the effects of their disappearance had on those who loved them as the wives of the keepers were interviewed for a novel twenty years after the incident. The story is actually loosely based on and inspired by a true story of the disappearance of three men in 1900.
The book starts out like a mystery, where we are first introduced to the disappearance when a sailor brings a relief keeper out to the tower. When they arrive at the tower, they wait and wait and wait, yet no one comes out. The company sends a crew to investigate, and we learn key details during this time: the door was barred from the inside out, the table was eerily set for just two keepers, and the clocks were both set to 8:45. Other than that, there is no indication where the keepers went, whether they died, they were taken, or they jumped ship to create a new life for themselves.
We read the story from the perspectives of each of the keepers, plus their wives, at various points throughout the novel as the setting jumps back and forth between 1972 and the present of 1992. My favorite parts of this book were the chapters where the wives are individually being interviewed, and we only get to hear what they say… sort of like listening to a one sided conversation. We never actually hear from the author himself, but each of their responses to the questions keys you in to what their characters are like. I haven’t read many books like that, and so I thoroughly enjoyed each unique chapter. The only thing I can compare it to is shows like The Office, Parks and Rec, Modern Family, etc., in which we get several one sided conversations throughout.
Along with the interviews, each individual chapter with the characters gave us loads of insight. I haven’t read many mystery/thriller novels, but each time I do I wonder why I don’t read them more often. The details I gleaned from each chapter kept me racing through the pages, desperate to find out why the men went missing. To be honest, I found it a touch underwhelming when I did find out the reason why, but I’ll explain. Deep thinking books that touch on characteristics of the human condition sometimes disappoint me… and I’m exposing myself here in my escapist ways. I’d much rather enjoy an impossible reality over a melancholy reality that is within grasp. But, I think Emma Stonex did a fantastic job of incorporating grief and the ways in which people write their own reality when something unexplainable happens into this novel. Each of the wives had such a unique story to tell, and since none of them spoke their truths to each other, none of their stories lined up. This element also kept me guessing until the end, wondering which truth eventually won out over the others. Of course, we got to see the story play out with the keepers as well, but really it was the wives who ended playing a more pivotal role in what really happened. And they were the ones who eventually had to deal with the truth throughout the years.
In the end, I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had more bizarre, unexplainable elements to it… if it were in fact, a ghost story. Or an episode of Scooby Doo. But that is 100% my personal preference and has nothing to do with the way this novel was written… which was very well, in my opinion. You could tell Emma Stonex did her research and she did it right, incorporating accuracies into every last detail. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers, mysteries, and books that make you think deep about how we are all living our own variation of the truth.