Fiction Reviews

The Lamplighters

(2021) Emma Stonex, Picador, £14.99, hrdbk, 358pp, ISBN 978-1-529-04731-8


Let’s get the key thing out of the way at the beginning: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone.

But does it fall into the categories of Science Fiction or Fantasy or Horror? More than anything it is a Mystery. In a sense, the tale is a simple one. Three men on a lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall, operated by Trident House, disappear: but how and why?

The story flows back and forward between 1972, when the incident happens and 1992, when a mysterious author contacts the three ‘widows’ to write the ‘real’ story. Each of the men and women have their own secrets (two of them are having an affair, for instance), there is a revenge plot, there is a crime in the background of one of the men which never is really explained, and then there any number of instances of the colour white (birds, hair, people). There is a visit from a mysterious man who comes to repair the generator, who seems to know all about them, but who Trident House deny they have sent. Sorry about all the uses of the word ‘mysterious’, but you get my drift.

The use of ‘Trident’ House is a puzzle, rather that the obvious ‘Trinity’. Whether Trinity House refused to give their permission, or that the author wanted to make a connection with Neptune, only she will know. But a lot of the details of other lighthouses operated by ‘Trident’ are certainly real enough, down to the ferry to the Isle of Wight (a journey I know well). But there again there is an air of mystery, because Trident is run by ‘Elder Fellows’ and an ‘Inner Circle’, who apparently know exactly what happened.

When the end comes, there are three different means of death (there’s that ‘tri-‘ again). An accident, a murder and trick of the mind leading to a fall. But even then, there is an air of mystery, with one of the men being carried away on a boat, with a windless and torn sail, and an infant passenger. The main narrative ends with a ‘white bird circled the top of the tower before heading out to sea.’

To tell you more would be to spoil the tale.

Around the time that I read this novel, I also picked up a copy of an old ‘Panther Horror’ anthology of H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories (Dagon). Within it is a story entitled ‘The White Ship’. It involves a man who is carried away from a lighthouse on (surprisingly enough) a white ship. The overlap of the colour white, lighthouse and disappearance made me wonder – not about plagiarism, but about recurring themes – there are, allegedly only 7 basic plots – this novel I suspect would be ‘Tragedy’.

All in all, this novel I would describe as a psychological mystery, with aspects of horror and the supernatural. And I recommend it thoroughly.

Peter Young


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