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12 / 30 books. 40% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

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69 / 165 books. 42% done!
Thursday, April 01, 2021

New Literary Thriller Broody and Atmospheric

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A seasoned San Francisco missing persons detective, 35-year-old Anna Hart is used to dealing with the atrocities that are a daily part of her job.  Although she can steel herself enough to perform her duties, each case embeds itself deeply inside of her.  When tragedy strikes in her personal life, the emotional toll throws her over an edge that forces her to take a step back from work.  Taking a leave of absence, she retreats to Mendocino, the coastal town where she lived as a child after being taken in by a loving foster family.  It's the place she feels most at home, most at peace, making it the perfect spot from whence to lick her wounds.

Anna is supposed to be resting, but when she discovers that a local girl has gone missing, she can't just sit idly by.  The Mendocino sheriff, an old pal of Anna's, is thrilled when she offers to assist him with the case.  She's puzzled by the disappearance of Cameron Curtis, the 15-year-old daughter of a famous, wealthy actress.  The girl had been sheltered and kept separate from the local kids.  If she ran off, with whom did she go?  If someone took her, how did they get access to her?  And what have they done with her?  Cameron's case reminds Anna too much of the last time a girl from Mendocino went missing, twenty some years ago.  Is it possible the disappearances are related?  Whatever it takes from her, Anna vows to find Cameron as well as the long-missing Jenny Ledford.  Asking probing questions in the tight-knit community soon puts the detective in the spotlight—an increasingly dangerous place to be.  Can she find the answers she needs to find the missing?  Or will she be the next woman to vanish without a trace?

When the Stars Go Dark (available April 13, 2021) is a new literary thriller by Paula McLain.  Because it's more of the former than the latter, the story moves slowly (but steadily) with more emphasis on the characters and their relationships than on the twin mysteries at the novel's center.  The characters are sympathetic and likable enough; the prose is skilled, even poetic in places; and the plot is suspenseful and engaging.  The mystery part of the story is pretty straightforward, without any surprises.  In fact, I saw the "bad guys" coming from a mile away.  Usually, I hate predictability in a mystery/thriller, but it didn't bother me too much in this one since the book is really more about Anna finding herself than solving another case.  I don't know if McLain plans to write more books starring Anna Hart, but I would definitely read a series with her as the leading lady.  I enjoyed this broody, atmospheric novel overall and will be on the lookout for more stories like this one from McLain.

(Readalikes:  A million titles should be coming to mind, but I'm drawing a blank.  Help?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of When the Stars Go Dark from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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