When the Stars Go Dark” by Paula McLain

Review by Yvonne Selander, collection development librarian

Paula McLain is known for writing biographical historical fiction, but this newest release shows the author can craft a thriller, create interesting original characters, and keep you on the edge of your seat reading late into the night to see if a kidnapper is brought to justice. With this novel McLain is going to grab a lot of new readers.

Anna Hart is a missing persons detective in San Francisco; she is consumed by her work, by the faces of all the missing kids, to the tragic detriment of her family. Unable to face her ruined life she flees to the only place she ever felt safe: Mendocino, California. She hasn’t been back in decades but all is eerily familiar.

During her childhood a good friend went missing; her body was found a week later. The kidnapper/killer was never caught. Now, another girl has gone missing in Mendocino and despite her desperate need for a break from everything in her life, Anna knows she has to save this lost girl.

Readers get to know Anna intimately and everything that makes her tick. She is a woman dealing with so much inner turmoil, pain, and grief, but she is able to turn it into drive and determination to save another missing teenager. Having a nefarious mind nurtured through the hundreds of thrillers I’ve read, I had an inkling of the identity of the kidnapper, but that didn’t detract from the story one bit. Anna’s return to the one place she had felt safe as a foster kid, and the childhood friends she left behind, was a glimpse into anyone’s return to a childhood home; at once familiar and also foreign. 

There are other kidnappings brought into the story that sounded familiar — because they were. The Polly Klass abduction in 1993 is woven into the story along with some other missing persons cases in such a way that we can only hope we’ll see Anna Hart again in a sequel.