Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When unspeakable tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino.
... a thoughtful exploration of the rippling impact of early trauma, perfect for true-crime aficionados and fans of Law & Order: SVU who find themselves eager to challenge the genre’s laser focus on perpetrator psychology over victimology ... If Anna’s own circumstances sound like a lot to keep track of, that’s because they are. A glut of names, places and time periods occasionally had me mentally scurrying to play catch-up, but ultimately didn’t distract from my desire to find out whodunit. Hang in there ... McLain is unflinching in her insistence that the study of the girls’ psyches is just as important to an investigation as profiling the bad guy ... Fair warning: Some readers may find this line of inquiry uncomfortable. But maybe that’s the point. Trauma, while hard to look at, does turn insidious when allowed to fester in the dark, unseen ... McLain’s prose is almost lyrical, especially when she turns to the untamed landscape of coastal California. But when it comes to descriptions of death, assault and abuse, she writes with measured restraint, a choice that forces the reader to accept these horrific events as grim reflections of our real world rather than gratuitous story machinations. In fact, McLain intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction by braiding actual missing persons cases into the narrative, a touch that promptly sent me down several internet rabbit holes ... As Anna tries to find out what happened to Cameron and the other girls, her willingness to consider the mystical brings interesting texture to an otherwise grounded detective novel. It’s sort of like tasting a secret ingredient in a recipe and not quite being able to place it. McLain introduces a psychic and invokes intuition and predestination as valid guiding lights for her characters ... After a gut punch that reveals what sent Anna up the coast, McLain puts her heroine in mortal peril to deliver the kind of heart-pounding conclusion that thriller fans crave. As a bonus, avid readers of the genre will be pleased to find they’ve picked up several kernels of intellectual nourishment along the way. In the end, a book full of darkness lands with a message of hope: Instigators of trauma don’t always have the last word.
McLain’s story line is fueled by pure high anxiety ... McLain deftly constructs a multi-part narrative that flashes back to Anna’s troubled upbringing and the family life she’s recently fled, while keeping pace with the sudden turns in the current case. The town of Mendocino, with its ocean fogs and ornate Victorian architecture, is an eerie presence in this novel ... Perhaps it’s no surprise that McLain has shifted so fluidly from historical fiction to suspense, given the overlaps between the investigative work of the historian and the detective. But in When the Stars Go Dark McLain has not entirely abandoned her practice of fictionalizing the lives of real-life people. It’s this aspect of her novel—in which actual kidnapping victims and their families intersect with fictional victims—that some readers may find discomfiting ... an atmospheric and intricately plotted suspense novel. But be forewarned: For some of us readers who remember the real-time terror of Klaas’s kidnapping and its tragic aftermath, this novel may be too faithful to history to be wholly pleasurable.
... lures you into engaging with the story lest you miss a moment of its well-wrought beats. This is a haunting, intelligent novel for the discerning reader; the thinking man’s page-turner; a riveting crime-detective story ... wonderfully paced ... McClain is at her finest when depicting the woods ... an enthralling foray into the step-by-step mechanics behind the hunt for a child abductor that grows with surprising linkages into the search for a serial killer hiding in plain sight ... painstaking detail and knowledge of the criminal mind’s minutiae ... an intriguing, harrowing story that suggests we should never grow comfortable in a false sense of security even as it praises the merits of small-town community life. It’s a masterfully written story of resolution and reconciliation that operates on multiple levels of time, mind, and spirit. As for the poetic title, McClain hits a high note,.