Monday, March 15, 2021

When The Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

When The Stars Go Dark
by Paula McLain
Published April 2021 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
I requested this book from Netgalley without reading the publisher's summary. I'd read three books by McLain previously and assumed this one would fall in that same lane - a fictionalized story about a real woman, whose name is still known because of her proximity to others who were more famous. Imagine my surprise when I started reading this one and discovered that it's not only not historical fiction, but that it's a literary thriller with very dark themes. Definitely not what I was expecting and yet 20 pages in, I was hooked. 

One book blurb called Anna Hart "deeply flawed." It seems the thing to saw any time you have a character who is not all goodness and light. It also seems to suggest a fault of character. I didn't see a fault of character so much as a woman who is the product of her life experiences, a woman deeply committed to her job, to saving the children who have been taken and finding closure for the families whose children won't come home. She's certainly scarred and struggling to come to grips with a marriage that is falling apart and a past that won't leave her. I liked her a lot and never felt that she wouldn't find her way. 

Kirkus Reviews calls this book a "multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight." Agreed; McLain's writing style delivers an emotional gut punch. So many broken people and all of that sadly believable. My mom heart, especially, ached throughout the book. 

Even though the blurbs rave about this one (as blurbs will do), it's not without it's flaws. I felt like McLain tried to pull too many threads into the story, I wasn't a big fan of the psychic element, and I didn't entirely find the ending believable, particularly because I had long before figured out who the "bad guy" was and felt like he would have been a target much sooner in a real investigation. And yet, despite all of that, I remained hooked on this book. I needed to know what had happened to the local girl who had gone missing and how the characters I had come to care about would come through this trial. 

1 comment:

  1. I skimmed a little because I am about to finish this one now. While reading it today, my son sent me an update on the missing San Luis Obispo girl from the college he now goes to. She's been missing for so long but there's been a break. Reading about this fictional kidnapping and then getting updates on a real case is pretty chilling. I could not have timed the reading of this one better.