Wednesday, March 24, 2021

When the Stars Go Dark

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
4/13/21; 384 pages
Random House Publishing Group

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain is a highly recommended multifaceted, perceptive emotional mystery set in 1993.

Both in her past and the present, Anna Hart is well acquainted with the dark side of human nature. In the present she is a missing persons detective in San Francisco who has a special insight into cases of missing or murdered children that she honed in her past. A present day personal tragic accident leaves her on leave and sends her blindly escaping, traveling north to Mendocino to the only stable home she had as a child with foster parents. Orphaned at eight she was in a series of foster homes until she went to live with Hap and Eden, who gave her the acceptance and, most importantly, the skills to survive in the world. Once she is back in Mendocino, she learns that there is a missing girl.

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Curtis, daughter of a retired actor, has disappeared. It is unknown if she was abducted or a runaway. For Anna, this brings back memories of a teenage friend who disappeared when they were both teens. Another friend from her teen years there, Will Flood, is now the sheriff. Anna offers to help him search for Cameron. Then two more girls are abducted/missing, including real life twelve-year-old Polly Klaas. Anna understands the basics of how victims come into contact with predators and knows that she needs to find the missing girls - if they are still alive.

McLain vividly describes the landscape as skillfully as she delves into the interior life of Anna. Anna is a wounded character from her childhood but uses her experiences and training in her present day search for the missing and murdered children. She understands the vulnerability of the missing girls because of her childhood and the recent tragedy she experienced. Readers won't know what happened to Anna until the very end, although there are mentions and hints throughout the novel. Anna is a well-developed character and is skillfully portrayed as a real person with an authenticity that comes from McLain's own experiences.

The writing is exquisite, beautifully descriptive and emotionally fraught, especially due to the subject matter and Anna's background. It is an adroitly written literary mystery novel. The plot moves at a slower, more introspective pace at the beginning before picking up the momentum as more clues and information is uncovered. The narrative does go back and forth in time, which assists in the development of Anna's character.  Mystery readers will find the ending a bit predictable as the suspect is easily identifiable, but the focus is on Anna dealing with her issues while seeking to find the girls.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Random House Publishing Group in exchange for my honest opinion.

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