I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Published by Ballantine Books on April 13, 2021
Length: 11 hours and 29 minutes
Genres: Mystery, Crime
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Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now, she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet, the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing.
The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.
Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives - and our faith in one another.
“Because everyone wants to be looked for, whether they realize it or not.”
After being placed on administrative leave following a personal tragedy, Detective Anna Hart finds herself drawn back to her hometown of Mendocino, California. She quickly becomes enmeshed in a missing girl case, recognizing too the horrifying similarities to the disappearance and subsequent murder of a childhood friend back in 1972. The investigation into the missing girl, Cameron Curtis, speaks to Hart on a personal level when she discovers that they had both been foster care kids and had sustained abuse at a young age. When other girls turn up missing, Hart begins to see a potential connection between the victims and even more connections to her murdered friend.
While When the Stars Go Dark was quite a dark novel, vividly exploring the effects of early childhood trauma, it was still a very refreshing take on the literary crime novel. Detective Anna Hart’s constant empathy and dogged determination to bring the missing girls home was authentic due to her own similar childhood tragedies. The line between fiction and true crime became blurred when McLain decided to incorporate the true story of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old girl that was abducted in her house during a slumber party but found dead 2 months later. At first, I didn’t feel that including Polly in this story was necessary but the author’s note at the end of the story changed my mind about that.
“The profound suffering of the victims and their families crept into my dreams — and onto the page,” she explains in the author’s note. “It began to feel imperative that I tell their stories as bluntly and factually as possible, as a way to honor their lives and dignify their deaths and disappearances. Saying their names became for me a sacred act. A kind of prayer.”
I particularly enjoyed the setting of the novel, Mendocino, California, seeing as I grew up in Mendocino County. Seeing the reference to Mendocino in the book summary was one of the primary reasons I picked this book up and I’m so very glad I did. I opted for the audiobook version because Marin Ireland is quickly earning a top place in my must-listen narrators, and she knocked this performance out of the park. When the Stars Go Dark is a somber yet sophisticated mystery that manages to end on a hopeful note.