Mysterious Book Report The Lightkeepers

Mysterious Book Report No. 239

The Lightkeepers

by John Dwaine McKenna

An exceptional new authorial voice was brought to our attention by some friends in New York City a few weeks ago. They know we’re always looking for exemplary first novels by as-yet unknown writers to introduce to our MBR audience—and although we don’t always agree—this time they’re spot on! With thanks to Ian and all the crew at Otto Penzler’s bookstore, meet Abby Geni. Her debut novel, The Lightkeepers, is “A first novel of gripping, talon-sharp intensity . . .” according to Booklist’s starred review. KIRKUS’S starred review adds “Geni may be unmatched in her ability to describe nature in ways . . . photographically accurate and emotionally resonate.” Exceptional and well-deserved praise from two highly revered sources about a remarkable entry into the crowded mystery genre.

The Lightkeepers (Counterpoint, $25.00, 358 pages, ISBN 978-1-61902-600-1) is a modified locked-room mystery in which a globe-trotting, freelance nature photographer named Miranda joins a group of six biologists on the remote Farallon Islands for a one-year picture taking sojourn. The Farallon archipelago is a nature preserve located thirty miles from San Francisco . . . reachable only by an erratic and unpredictable ferryboat. Once there, visitors are winched ashore on a crane, cable and basket apparatus known as the Billy Pugh, because there’s no dock or wharf. The shore is too rocky, and the ocean too violent to allow any kind of permanent facility to be built. Once on the island, danger is everywhere. Miranda meets five quirky scientists and an intern, all of whom caution her about the many ways in which she could lose her life: the wind, rain, fog, freezing weather and precipitous heights, the slippery moss and lichen-covered rocks being only a few. Then there’s the animals: twenty-foot white sharks and killer whales patrol offshore, while inland, two-thousand pound sea lions fight for territory and mating rights, female lions protect and nurse newly born seal pups . . . and the birds. The Farallon Islands are a breeding grounds for hundreds of thousands of increasingly vicious birds who cover the island in nests and guano and attack without warning or provocation, forcing the humans to wear hard hats, waterproof ponchos, and flea collars around their ankles to ward off the constant aerial attacks and bird lice. It’s an environment teeming with relentless danger and jaw dropping beauty, a setting where death lurks on every square foot of ground. Miranda finds herself in the midst of a small, closed-off and indifferent group of people who remain focused on observing the animals without interfering with them. But when one of the humans turns up dead one morning, everything changes. Was it an accident, or something more sinister? Nothing is as it first seems in this powerful and imaginative work. It is a novel that will stay with you, sticking somewhere in the synapses and neurons of the brain, hidden deep in your memory banks . . . until some small, unexpected, perfectly innocent event triggers something . . . and causes the entire story to roar back to life in your head. Such is the power of great fiction. The Lightkeepers is a novel that will stay with you forever.


John Dwaine McKenna

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