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All booksMysteryWhen the Stars Go Dark
When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

When the Stars Go Dark

by Paula McLain

Quick take

Ann only wants to disappear. But when a missing persons case hits a nerve, the sleuth is forced to confront her past.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Creepy


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Whodunit


Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator


This book contains mentions of a death of a child, drug use, and sexual assault.

Why I love it

Aimee Molloy
Author, Goodnight Beautiful

Paula McLain has written a thriller. Yes, you read that right. Paula McLain—the author of Circling the Sun and other well-known standouts of historical fiction—has written a thriller, the kind that only Paula McLain could write: a haunting, irresistible crime story with shades of historical truth, as if told by a poet.

When the Stars Go Dark is the story of Anna Hart, a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco. In the wake of a personal tragedy that has possibly destroyed her marriage, she returns to the small Northern California town of Mendocino, where she was raised by beloved foster parents, to bury herself in the work of locating a missing teenage girl. As she digs deeper into this mystifying disappearance, she finds herself revisiting the unsolved murder of a childhood friend decades earlier, an event that shook her community, and changed Anna forever.

As I read, I became entrenched in this town, these characters, and an unforgettable heroine who takes on a beautiful and heart-breaking adventure. You’ll both want to speed through the pages, and savor every moment—a rare feat for a book, and one that proves Paula McLain a master in any genre.

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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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of When the Stars Go Dark.

Member thoughts

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All (5594)
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5650 ratings
  • 52% Love
  • 42% Like
  • 5% Dislike
  • Seattle, WA

    I absolutely love this authors writing style. I felt engaged the whole time and couldn’t stop reading. So descriptive and wild with vivid imagery. I was so moved and cried multiple times. My fav BOTM

  • Noblesville , IN

    Such an amazing read. Full of emotion, mystery, history, and intrigue. I couldn’t put it down. McLain creates a setting and historical fiction mystery that pulls you and makes you feel you are there!

  • Santa Fe, NM

    Paula McLain is amazing! She’s able to write such different books, each as good as the next. It brought back the horror of the Klaus murder and the fear that gripped California. Read it in 1 sitting!

  • Simpsonville , SC

    This book was so good that I read it in one sitting!!!! A detective trying to find her way back to her life and a missing child case that she gets involved in. Will this case help her or hurt her??

  • Lakewood, OH

    I loved how there were several intertwining stories with a lot of raw emotion and underlying trauma. The story was well told however, it was slow to build up and the number of characters was confusing

  • williamsville, NY

    I loved this book from the very first page; and I never wanted to put it down until I was finished with the last. Moving, suspenseful and utterly wonderfully written. My favorite book of the year yet!

  • Livermore, CA

    Although I had the kidnapper figured out pretty early on, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It felt so authentic, and Anna Hart was a character that I think a lot of people could identify with. So great

  • Chicago, IL

    Anna is a missing persons detective who focuses on missing girls.This case is parallel with a true high profile case. I liked this parallel bringing in true crime to increase the depth of the fiction

  • Portsmouth, VA

    This was somehow both a fast-paced thriller and beautifully written literary fiction and it worked surprisingly well. I loved the moody setting and the reflections on the reverberations of past trauma

  • Dallas, TX

    This is an atmospheric, slow burn thriller with absolutely gorgeous writing. I loved Anna as the protagonist too. I cannot recommend this one enough and if it is not on your radar it really should be.

  • Lewisville, TX

    Poetic & mesmerizing mystery about lives changed by trauma. It speaks to the issue of childhood sexual assault & the ramifications on the victims/families lives w/raw candidness & introspective manner

  • Pleasanton , CA

    This was a great story, being from NorCal it hit even harder. I was a kid when Polly Klaas went missing. Reliving the case, now as a mom,hit hard. This was an emotional read.Highly recommend tissues.

  • Walhalla, SC

    The whodunnit was easy, I knew who from 30% in. But the actual literary themes? The atmospheric detail? Those are the things that gripped me start to finish. Beautiful & terrifying writing, I loved it

  • Wheat Ridge, CO

    This is my second book by Paula McLain and I love her ability to go deep with her characters while also developing intrigue and mystery. Hap and her her relationship with nature a favorite part ????

  • Hillsdale, MI

    This is a thriller; however it's so much more than that. Family, home, friendships, loss, and society as a whole, are large threads that tie this book together. And I was guessing until the very end!

  • Warren, OH

    Anna is putting her life back together the only way she knows how. She works hard to solve disparaging cases involving children. However, come to find out that searching leads her to her own healing.


    The writer did a pretty decent job. A few chapters in I had a strong intuition of who we are looking at as the predator. Love the strong dialogue exchanged between the characters adding more depth!

  • Seattle, WA

    This is a thoughtfully written detective story which give insight into how much is sacrificed by those who work to solve crimes. The descriptions of the setting are amazing and I hope for a series.

  • Bath, NY

    A great story that follows a detective who goes back to her roots to find herself again and solves cases in the present as well as the tragedy that has affected that little town for over a decade.

  • New York, NY

    THIS. BOOK. RIGHT. HERE. Perfect. Kept me on my toes. The language was stunning. Loved the narrator’s professionalism/candor in work juxtaposed with the emotion/mystery surrounding personal life.

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