Book Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Berkley(October 5, 2021)
Length: 368 pages
After The Nesting last year, I just knew I had to get my hands on more of C.J. Cooke’s work. So, when the synopsis of The Lighthouse Witches promised more of that same Gothic suspense and atmospheric goodness, I was quite anxious to dive right in.
Our story begins in 1998, as artist Olivia Stay arrives on Scottish isle Lòn Haven along with her three daughters Sapphire, Luna, and Clover. Commissioned to paint a mural inside an ancient lighthouse supposedly built on the ruins of prison for witches, Olivia knows very little about the client who hired her or why he wanted the work done, but she’s desperate for work and also looking to start fresh in a new place.
Her teenager Sapphire, however, is quite unhappy about having been uprooted from their old home and is taking her anger out on her mother and sisters. Exploring on her own, she comes across an old tome left near the lighthouse filled with accounts of the witch burnings that happened on the island back in in the 1600s. The residents of the village, friendly as they are, also seem to be deeply superstitious, believing in the old stories about changelings, and it doesn’t help that for such a small place, Lòn Haven has a long and disturbing history of children randomly disappearing.
And then the unthinkable happens. Two of Olivia’s daughters go missing, setting her off on a panicked search. But in the end, only one girl is found. Fast forward twenty-three years later to the present day, we follow Luna, now a grown woman expecting her first child. Her life is a bit of a mess, having been estranged from her mother Olivia and now having relationship troubles with her boyfriend, which is putting even more stress on her already high-risk pregnancy. Through it all though, Luna has never given up searching for her lost sisters, and then one day, she unexpectedly receives news from the police that Clover has been found. Excited to be reunited with her sister, who should be around thirty years old by now, Luna is shocked to arrive at the station to find a little girl.
At first, her heart sinks knowing this can’t be Clover, but at the same time, the child looks exactly like her seven-year-old sister who went missing back in 1998. Not only that, she also sounds exactly like her, knows all the things that only Clover would know. It shouldn’t be possible, but the more time Luna spends with the girl, the more she is convinced that she is her sister. But how to explain the fact that she hasn’t aged a day since they last saw each other?
Basically, there are narratives from three timelines that make up The Lighthouse Witches—the one in 1998 told from Olivia and Sapphire’s POVs, the one in 2021 from Luna’s POV, and the last one told through diary entries from the old book, which I won’t comment on any further in case of spoilers. As you can imagine, all that jumping around can get a little dicey, and I won’t lie, there were definitely moments where things got confusing. Still, for the most part, I thought the author handled the POV switches very well, alternating and contrasting the timelines in a way that delivered the most tension and impact.
That said, it does take a while for the three arcs to build and weave together some semblance of a conflict, so patience is required until the main plot can get off the ground. Once you hit a certain point though, the mystery reaches a climax, and the rest of the novel unfolds at a breathless pace. I would say if you enjoyed The Nesting, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy The Lighthouse Witches too, and in fact, in certain respects, I liked this one better. Both books begin with a single woman relocating to a remote place to start a new job, and both also involve creepy children. Then there’s the paranormal element, which is even more pronounced in this novel, and that’s great news if that’s your jam. This time, I also wasn’t as hung up on certain questionable explanations or leaps of logic, because the presence of the otherworldly and uncanny gave the plot a lot more leeway.
As with most novels that can be described as moody, twisty, slow-burn Gothic suspense, The Lighthouse Witches probably won’t be for everyone, but if you happen to be on the lookout for that kind of story and won’t mind a somewhat indeterminate supernatural angle, then this book is for you.