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When the Stars Go Dark
Cover of When the Stars Go Dark
When the Stars Go Dark
A Novel
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GOOD MORNING AMERICA BUZZ PICK • “A total departure for the author of The Paris Wife, McLain’s emotionally intense and exceptionally...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GOOD MORNING AMERICA BUZZ PICK • “A total departure for the author of The Paris Wife, McLain’s emotionally intense and exceptionally...
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Description-

  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GOOD MORNING AMERICA BUZZ PICK • “A total departure for the author of The Paris Wife, McLain’s emotionally intense and exceptionally well-written thriller entwines its fictional crime with real cases.”—People (Book of the Week)

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY MARIE CLAIRE • “The kind of heart-pounding conclusion that thriller fans crave . . . In the end, a book full of darkness lands with a message of hope.”—The New York Times Book Review

    “This mystery will keep you guessing, and stay with you long after you finish. Dive in.”—Daily Skimm

    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.

Excerpts-

  • From the book (one)

    The night feels shredded as I leave the city, through perforated mist, a crumbling September sky. Behind me, Potrero Hill is a stretch of dead beach, all of San Francisco unconscious or oblivious. Above the cloud line, an eerie yellow sphere is rising. It’s the moon, gigantic and overstuffed, the color of lemonade. I can’t stop watching it roll higher and higher, saturated with brightness, like a wound. Or like a door lit entirely by pain.

    No one is coming to save me. No one can save anyone, though once I believed differently. I believed all sorts of things, but now I see the only way forward is to begin with nothing, or whatever is less than nothing. I have myself and no one else. I have the road and the snaking mist. I have this tortured moon.

    I drive until I stop seeing familiar landmarks, stop looking in my rearview to see if someone is following me. In Santa Rosa, the Travelodge is tucked behind a superstore parking lot, the whole swath of it empty and overlit, like a swimming pool at night with no one in it. When I ring the bell, the night manager makes a noise from a back room and then comes out cheerfully, wiping her hands on her bright cotton dress.

    “How are you?” she asks. The world’s most innocuous question, impossible to answer.

    “Fine.”

    She holds out the registration card and a purple pen, the dimpled flesh under her arm unfurling like a wing. I feel her looking at my face, my hair. She watches my hands, reading upside down. “Anna Louise Hart. That’s sure a pretty name.”

    “What?”

    “Don’t you think so, baby?” Her voice has the Caribbean in it, a rich, warm slant that makes me think she calls everyone “baby,” even me.

    It’s hard work not to flinch at her kindness, to stand in the greenish cast of the fluorescent bulb and write down the number of my license plate. To talk to her as if we’re just any two people anywhere, carrying on without a single sorrow.

    She finally gives me my key, and I go to my room, shutting the door behind me with relief. Inside there’s a bed and a lamp and one of those oddly placed chairs no one ever sits in. Bad lighting flattens everything into dull rectangles, the tasteless carpet and plastic-­looking bedspread, the curtains missing their hooks.

    I set down my duffel in the center of the bed, take out my Glock 19 and tuck it under the stiff pillow, feeling reassured to have it nearby, as if it’s an old friend of mine. I suppose it is. Then I grab a change of clothes, and start the shower, taking care to avoid the mirror as I undress, except to look at my breasts, which have hardened into stones. The right is hot to the touch, with a blistered red mound surrounding the nipple. I run the water in the shower as hot as it will go and stand there, being burned alive, with no relief at all.

    When I climb out, dripping, I hold a washcloth under the faucet before microwaving it, sodden, until it smokes. The heat feels volcanic as I press it hard against myself, singeing my hands as I bend double over the toilet bowl, still naked. The loose flesh around my waist feels as rubbery and soft against my arms as a deflated life raft.

    With wet hair, I walk to the all-­night drugstore, buying ACE bandages and a breast pump, ziplock bags, and a forty-­ounce bottle of Mexican beer. They only have a hand pump in stock, awkward and time-­consuming. Back in my room, the heavy outmoded television throws splayed shadows on the bare wall. I pump with the sound off on a Spanish soap opera, trying to distract myself from the ache of the...

About the Author-

  • Paula McLain is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Love and Ruin, Circling the Sun, The Paris Wife, and A Ticket to Ride, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, and two collections of poetry. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, O: The Oprah Magazine, Town & Country, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. She lives in Ohio with her family.

Reviews-

  • Booklist

    February 1, 2021
    McLain's (The Paris Wife, 2011; Love and Ruin, 2018) latest starts as a mystery involving Anna Hart, who's dedicated her life to finding missing California children, but turns into historical fiction as the story follows the disappearance of real-life victim Polly Klaas. Fleeing an accident in her personal life, the harrowing details of which are only revealed at book's end, Anna can't escape her vocation and helps search for Cameron Curtis, a missing girl who could still be alive. Anna's trauma as well as that of earlier victims, and the hunt for Cameron and for Polly, entwine to immerse readers in a misty world of pain, longing, and sometimes victory and redemption. McLain offers readers flashes of insight--watch out for personal blind spots, for example, as what's too close to see might be what's most perilous--that will linger after the last, tension-packed pages of this thoughtful work. Recommend to patrons seeking a next read after Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark (2019) and the TV show Criminal Minds, which, like Anna, profiles victims to find killers.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2021

    After a devastating tragedy, missing persons detective Anna Hart leaves San Francisco and heads to her hometown of Mendocino, CA. Hoping to find the solitude she needs to heal her shattered heart and troubled marriage, she arrives in the small town certain that it offers nothing but bad memories. From the mother who died on Christmas Day to the high school friend found strangled and dumped in a creek, everywhere she looks, Anna sees misfortune. It's 1993, and the abduction of 12-year-old Polly Klaas is in the news. Anna is drawn into the hunt for a missing 15-year-old girl. Alongside her high school friend--now the sheriff--Will Flood, she battles for resources as the FBI and the media focus on the higher-profile Klaas case. Despite the belief her job destroyed her marriage, Anna feels compelled to search for the missing teen, somehow knowing that her own path to redemption depends on the outcome of the case. VERDICT This melancholy but gripping tale uses backstory and flashbacks to propel the mystery forward. Part suspense, part self-discovery tale, this first attempt at crime fiction from historical fiction author McLain (The Paris Wife) is hard to resist. Fans of the author's other works will not be disappointed.--Vicki Briner, Broomfield, CO

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    March 15, 2021
    A San Francisco homicide detective traumatized by personal tragedy and the many horrors she's encountered returns to Mendocino, once her childhood sanctuary, only to be drawn into the case of a missing girl and the unresolved mysteries of her own past. "For as long as I could remember, I'd had reasons to disappear," Anna Hart muses. "I was an expert at making myself invisible." Orphaned at 8 and reared in a series of foster homes, this police detective has an unwavering commitment to the cases of missing and murdered children and an uncanny "radar for victims." Then her own family is shattered by a death she might have prevented. Anna flees to Mendocino, where a foster family once provided not only love, but also survival lessons and where Anna agrees to help a local sheriff--also a childhood friend--as he investigates the case of a teenage girl who seems to have been abducted. But the disappearance of Cameron Curtis recalls for Anna a more distant Mendocino mystery: the vanishing of a childhood friend of hers in 1972. And when two more girls are abducted shortly after Cameron--one of them the real-life Polly Klaas--the stage seems set for a predictable serial killer hunt. But McLain largely avoids that well-trodden path to craft instead a psychological thriller that deftly evokes both the entrancing landscape of the Mendocino hills and the rough terrain of shattered lives. "No one can save anyone," the haunted Anna laments at the outset, but the novel's convincing outcome, while grimly realistic, permits her to think otherwise. Most memorable of all are the girls, past and present, who emerge here not as convenient victims but as vulnerable, believable characters. A muted yet thrilling multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Paula McLain
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