Y’all, I am SO excited to share my very first NetGalley review with you! I started my Bookstagram a little over a month ago and we’re at just over 800 followers. WHAT!
I was so stoked when NetGalley agreed to let me read and review this book. I’d heard of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, and was thrilled to review her upcoming novel, When the Stars Go Dark. It’s a mystery/thriller, which you probably know by now is my jam.
Summary: Anna Hart is a seasoned San Francisco detective specializing in missing persons cases. When a tragedy strikes her family, she flees to Northern California to the town of Mendocino, where she grew up with her foster parents. There, she finds herself in the middle of a missing teen case that has rocked the small town. Along with her childhood friend, now the police chief, Anna investigates the case of the missing teenager. The similarities between this case and a missing persons case from her youth are too similar to ignore, and the past and present collide in this tale of both fiction and true-crime elements.
Goodreads says of When the Stars Go Dark: “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 Review: Paula McLain is a gifted storyteller. From the first chapter, she laid the groundwork for a novel full of mystery, twists, and turns that constantly kept me guessing. Anna Hart’s character was experiencing her own maternal grief (the cause for which you won’t discover until the very last chapter), and I felt strongly connected to her as a mother. The passion Anna felt for her career and doing everything in her power to find the missing was strongly conveyed through her sheer determination and dedication to Cameron Curtis’ missing persons case–a case Anna was invested in because of the proximity and not because it was her duty.
I loved the element of true crime cases and history that were woven into this novel. Because the story took place in 1993, the internet and faxing were just becoming options for sharing information on missing persons cases in an attempt to spread the word further. It was fascinating to see advances in technology unfolding before my eyes as Anna investigated Cameron’s missing persons case. As a huge fan of the Netflix series Mindhunter, I was also excited to see Douglas, Ressler, and Burgess’ book Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives mentioned as the “bible” Anna Hart and her team were told to memorize and apply to their jobs as missing persons detectives (and yes, Douglas, Ressler, and Burgess are the main characters from the Netflix series). I love when true crime and fictional crime worlds collide.
The middle of the book did drag on a bit for me. The addition of not one, but two additional missing persons’ cases to the web of mystery was a little tiresome for me. But then I did some research and discovered that the case of Polly Klaas was a true story, and now I understand the juxtaposition of this famously-kidnapped young girl against Cameron Curtis’ fictitious case. Because Cameron’s family kept to themselves and were private people in comparison to Polly’s family and community coming together in a very public and media-driven manner, Anna Hart felt Cameron’s case was flying under the radar. It was a very interesting comparison, and one that, now knowing McLain furthered the elements of true crime even more so than I had realized, I felt was justified and added to the complexity of the story.
Conclusion: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain was a four-star read for me. It was well-written, the characters were relatable, and it had just the right amount of mystery, suspense, and just a little bit of gore. The only reason it wasn’t a five-star was that I guessed the ending (or, part of the ending. I did not know what tragedy Anna experienced that sent her fleeing to Mendocino, and that was a shocker for me).
This is a great mystery/suspense read!