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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



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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Content warning

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

Free sample

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

Why I love it

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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Member ratings (7,678)

  • Deborah M.

    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!

  • Tammi F.

    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!

  • Vivian H.

    Winchester, VA

    Beautifully written mystery involving a missing teen, profiling predators, repressed memories, nature survival lessons, community, mind-body connection, healing spirituality, forgiveness & resilience

  • Jamele M.

    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.

  • MarieJ E.

    Bean Station, TN

    My apologies to Ms. McLain for taking so long to read her unbelievable work of art. An emotional journey with such descriptive perfection, that I felt like I was part of this heartbreaking storyline.