BookBrowse Reviews The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni

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The Lightkeepers

by Abby Geni

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni X
The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 340 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 340 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer
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The haunting imagery of the atmospheric Farallon islands adds a touch of creepy suspense to this engaging mystery.

Loss often paves the path of the future, and such is the case for nature photographer Miranda, the main character in Abby Geni's eerie new mystery, The Lightkeepers. As a child, the early passing of her mother left Miranda unmoored and seeking, ultimately leading to photography, a profession that takes her to exotic locations around the world.

This time, Miranda has pushed to work miles off the California coast on the remote Farallon Islands (see 'Beyond the Book'). "Over a year ago, I had first glimpsed an image of the archipelago," recalls Miranda. "On a lazy afternoon, I had stumbled onto a snapshot — and that was all it took...White spray breaking on the cliffs. Islets of bare stone, like the skeleton of some massive sea creature, long extinct. I had gazed at that image, stunned and enthralled. It might have been a photograph of loneliness. The Islands of the Dead — they had taken my breath away."

Crossing wild and precarious waters, Miranda's arrival leads her to the rough-hewn cabin of six biologists, the island's only residents. This peculiar group of housemates will serve as Miranda's only company during her year-long post as she photographs the raw landscape and wildlife.

As Miranda settles in and takes stock of her surroundings she finds that the landscape is not as it appears. "The islands are deceptively fragile, made of rock that is not solid." The biologists are also difficult to discern, adding to Miranda's uncertainties. Each scientist has a deep — if not odd — commitment to the study of his or her own specialty species. What's more, the interactions of the group are tightly anchored in the depths of their work and the scientists' mantra — just observe, don't interfere — carries new meaning when violence erupts and a mysterious death occurs.

The fog-shrouded islands provide the perfect backdrop for this creepy whodunit. Geni takes full advantage of the incessant howling wind, pounding waves, and shifting spirits that hammer and haunt the landscape. Legend holds that of the many who attempted to exploit and strip the region of its natural resources, one group left something indisputable behind: a woman's body, whose spirit now remains and roams the island. Combined, these plot devices provide an underlying chill and suspicion that settles early in the story and never dissipates.

The stark magnificence of the islands and its wildlife adds to the excitement. Miranda's photographic eye provides the perfect lens for framing fantastic images of birds, stunning marine life, and the unending dominance of the sea. Her observations of the power and instinctual behavior of the animals add awe and overriding tension:

They come in the late autumn, passing the islands in droves. I have seen them sliding through the sea like nightmares. Despite their size, the whales have an elusive quality. They camouflage themselves as waves, as clouds, as islets, as reflections of light. Blue whales. Gray whales. More than once I have found myself staring at what appears to be an empty ocean, only to observe a column of mist rising against the sky — a gasping exhalation — and realize the sea is full of bodies.

The long-ago loss of her mother permeates Miranda's thoughts and serves to move the story forward. Miranda's inner dialogue allows events to cleverly unfold, shedding insights and clues for the reader along the way. At times these musings leave the reader a bit disoriented, questioning the reality of what has or hasn't really happened. Whether this is the author's intent or not is up to the reader to decide, but it works as the story reaches its resolution.

The Lightkeepers is an easy recommendation for readers of all genres. The excitement of the novel lies in its undercurrent of suspicion. Each character is just complicated enough, each excursion just dangerous enough, and each passage just suspicious enough to keep the reader on edge and guessing until the last page.

Reviewed by Megan Shaffer

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2016, and has been updated for the January 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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