cover image The Lamplighters

The Lamplighters

Emma Stonex. Viking, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9848-8215-8

British author Stonex’s spectacular debut wraps a haunting mystery in precise, starkly beautiful prose. In 1972, a boatman arrives at the desolate Maiden Rock lighthouse off the coast of Mortehaven, Cornwall, to pick up one of its three keepers for a scheduled break. Instead, he finds the trio—principal keeper Arthur Black; Black’s junior, Bill Walker; and third-in-command Vincent Bourne—gone. The tower is locked from the inside, the log chronicles strange storms that never happened, and the clocks are stopped at 8:45. Twenty years later, a writer determined to crack the unsolved mystery contacts the women the lighthouse keepers left behind. Now living in Bath, Helen Black returns to Mortehaven twice a year to commemorate her husband. She writes regularly to Bill’s wife, Jenny, hoping to be forgiven for Bill’s onetime obsession with her, but Jenny discards the letters in anger. Now in a troubled marriage, Vince’s former girlfriend, Michelle Davies, is sure that he played no role in the disappearance, despite his earlier brushes with the law. Seamlessly marrying quotidian detail with ghostly touches, the author captures both the lighthouse’s lure and the damage its isolation and confinement wreak on minds and families. The convincing resolution brings a welcome note of healing. Readers will eagerly await Stonex’s next. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV, & Film Agency. (Mar.)