The Light on Farallon Island

Written by Jen Wheeler
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

This debut novel is set in the 1850s, on a remote lighthouse outpost off the coast of San Francisco. Amelia Osborne is hired as the mysterious new teacher to most of the scant population of the island’s children. One family keeps its distance and its children almost out of sight.

Amelia’s recently deceased dear one is Lucy Riley, and Amelia has taken on both her name and her job. Except, one on the island knows the real person who went by the name Lucy Riley (which wasn’t her name either). That is the handsome, solitary Will Sisson, who lets Amelia know that he knows, without telling her his relationship to the dead woman. Not right away, anyway. Another mystery. Confused yet? Getting over her mistrust of Will, a passionate love affair ignites, to the distress of some of the island inhabitants and the delight of others.

To readers who like gothic mysteries inside of mysteries and a story revolving around the concept of the American West as a place of reinvention, this may hold appeal. Its bleak and foreboding tone is relieved by an engaging love story and the courageous scrappiness of its heroine. But most of the supporting characters are not sufficiently illuminated to as full a life as the landscape. Like the first Mrs. de Winter of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the most compelling person remains the mysterious Cathy/Kitty/Lucy, who is D.O.A. at the book’s onset.