“When the Stars Go Dark” by Paula McLain

When the stars go dark

Genre: Drama/Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: April 13, 2021

I have read three of the author’s previous novels. Two are historical novels that were both excellent. “The Paris Wife,” which is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson who was the first of his four wives, and “Circling the Sun,” which is about the real-life record-setting aviator, Beryl Markham.  “A Ticket to Ride” is coming of age story and that takes place in the 70s. These three novels convinced me that McLain is a great storyteller.  So, even though I am not a fan of detective novels, which is her latest novel’s genre, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this author.  To my surprise, even though the writing is stellar, I had to push myself to finish this one.

A female detective coping with the childhood trauma of growing up in foster homes loses her child in an accident, which cripples her with guilt and ruins her marriage. While helping a childhood friend, who is now a sheriff, she gets involved with a case on a missing teenage girl. This case morphs into three missing girls cases. This is probably one too many even for those whose favorite genre is detective mysteries. The problem with “When the Stars Go Dark” is that it reads more like detailed case studies on child abusers, parental abandonment, sexual abuse survivors, kidnappers, foster homes, and foster parents. In a way, this is partially a memoir. The author has a nonfiction book, “Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses” where she writes about her own experiences of growing up in foster homes and her childhood sexual abuse. The author does such a good job in educating her readers on the psychological issues that come from childhood trauma but seems to forget that she is writing a mystery. Still, I cannot help but applaud her when I read in her author’s note, “It began to feel imperative that I tell their (victims/survivors) stories as bluntly and factually as possible, as a way to honor their lives.”  Who could argue against such honesty?

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6 thoughts on ““When the Stars Go Dark” by Paula McLain

  1. Excellent review! I enjoyed this book, but I went into it thinking it was a thriller. This was my first read by her though, and I loved her writing. She did such a great job on the characters. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for a great review, Martie. I’ll give this one a miss. I find it so difficult to read about children suffering in any way. I often think I ought to read books on this subject though, just to bear witness, to acknowledge that these awful things happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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