An atmospheric thriller set in nineteenth-century
Edinburgh, Anthony O'Neill's elegant, darkly masterful
novel is full of psychological suspense and first-rate
Evelyn is a clever orphan at the Fountainbridge Institute
for Destitute Girls. Enchanted by a cheerful lamplighter
who fires the streetlamp outside her window each evening,
she mesmerizes the other girls with flights of fancy. In a
time before Freudian awareness of sexuality and the
subconscious mind, such tales are forbidden by the
institute's governor, who warns Evelyn to cease her
Evelyn defies him -- and is cast out of the orphanage and
sacrificed to a shadowy figure claiming to be her long-lost
father. Who is this man, and why does he lock Evelyn away
in a hunting lodge?
Years later, the mutilated body of a professor of
ecclesiastical law turns up on one of Edinburgh's finest
streets; the grave of a famous colonel is ravaged; a shady
entrepreneur is slaughtered while dashing for a train; and
a retired lighthouse keeper is ripped to shreds while
walking his dog -- all this after Evelyn, now a young
woman, has reappeared in the city. What connects the
victims? And what of Evelyn, anguished and appealing, who
repeatedly claims to have dreamed the murders in great
detail -- each time blaming a mysterious "lamplighter"?
Leading the official investigation is Carus Groves, a
conceited yet effective police inspector desperate to cap
his unremarkable career with a sensational case. Heading up
the unofficial investigation is a disillusioned professor
of logic and metaphysics, Thomas McKnight, and his
assistant, Joseph Canavan, a strapping young gravedigger.
Using reason, intuition, philosophy, and luck, these men
race to solve the murders and unveil the source of Evelyn's
torment, and in so doing penetrate the very gates of Hell.