The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex audiobook review – a spooky psychological mystery

<span>Photograph: Hugh R Hastings/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Hugh R Hastings/Getty Images

Inspired by the case of the lighthouse keepers who vanished from their posts in the Outer Hebrides in 1900, Emma Stonex’s gripping and evocative novel is at once a locked-room mystery, a horror story and a complex psychological thriller. It opens on New Year’s Eve in 1972 as a relief crew prepares to deliver supplies by boat to The Maiden Rock, a Victorian lighthouse and “stoic bastion of seafarers’ safety” 15 nautical miles off the coast of Land’s End in Cornwall. But on arriving they find the doors are locked from the inside, the clocks have stopped at a quarter to nine and the logbook records a storm that seemingly never happened. Furthermore, the three keepers are nowhere to be found. Could they have been swept out to sea? Did they fake their own deaths? Or are more otherworldly forces at work?

Fast-forward 20 years and an ambitious young writer hopes to solve the mystery of the keepers’ fate by conducting interviews with the women they left behind. The actors Indira Varma and Tom Burke each take on multiple characters in a narrative that moves back and forth across two decades. As the book plots the days leading up to the keepers’ disappearance, Burke deftly conjures the damp claustrophobia and profound isolation of life in a lighthouse at the mercy of the elements. Meanwhile Varma gives voice to the widows who appear no closer to understanding what happened to their partners, and who have each reacted to their loss in different ways.

The Lamplighters is available on Penguin Audio, 8hr 35 min.

Further listening

Sathnam Sanghera, Penguin Audio, 10hr 16min
Homer Todiwala narrates this account of the legacy of British imperialism by the author of The Boy With the Topknot.

A Town Called Solace
Mary Lawson, Penguin Audio, 7hr 32min

Maggie Huculak, Ian Lake and Tajja Isen read the Booker-nominated novel in which the lives of an elderly woman, a newly divorced accountant and an eight-year-old girl collide in a small Canadian town.