Category Archives: Paula McLain

Review: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Title: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical (’90s), Mystery, Suspense
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife comes an atmospheric novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense: A detective hiding away from the world. A series of disappearances that reach into her past. Can solving them help her heal?

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.


Set in 1993, When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain is a mesmerizing mystery.

When her marriage hits an extremely rough patch, San Francisco Detective Anna Hart returns to Mendocino to try to comes to terms with a heartrending loss. Having learned from her beloved foster dad that nature can help heal, she rents an isolated cabin and hikes familiar paths. Anna also convinces her childhood friend and current sheriff Will Flood to allow her to assist on a missing persons case. Fifteen-year-old Cameron Curtis has vanished without a trace or an explanation and Anna knows she can help locate her. In the course of the investigation, the police are alerted to another teenage girl who is also missing. Will Anna’s expertise in working cases involving missing teens lead them to the person responsible for the possible kidnappings?

Anna spent most of her childhood in foster care and she finally lucked out when she is placed with forest ranger Hap and his wife Eden.  Although very guarded at first, she finally realizes they genuinely care about her.  Despite this stable period in her life, Anna still never quite comes to terms with what happened just before entering foster care. As an adult, she is very dedicated to her job but her devotion to her career becomes point of contention between her and her husband. After tragedy strikes, Anna uses her job to keep her mind off her agonizing loss. But with her marriage in serious trouble, she hopes returning to Mendocino will help her put things into perspective and help her come to terms with recent events.

The investigation into Cameron’s disappearance is hindered by her actress mother’s desire for privacy. She does not want any type of publicity so Will and Anna must tread lightly when questioning people close to Cameron. The teenager’s best friend Gray Benson is extremely helpful but the search for the missing teen does not turn up anything new. Will and Anna are extremely frustrated by their lack of progress and Anna knows that time is running out if they hope to find Cameron alive. Anna unexpectedly stumbles across new information that breaks the case wide open. But will they find Cameron before it is too late?

When the Stars Go Dark is an atmospheric mystery with a multi-layered plot. At this point in her life, Anna is deeply troubled but cannot resist working on Cameron’s case. Will has his own troubles and he is a little out of his depth as he tries to find Cameron. Mendocino and the surrounding wilderness spring vibrantly to life and are very easy to visualize. This fictional missing person’s case incorporates real life events that occurred during 1993. With a shocking plot twist, Paula McLain brings this incredible mystery to an adrenaline laced conclusion. Greatly enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Historical, Historical (90s), Mystery, Paula McLain, Rated B+, Review, When the Stars Go Dark