It’s no secret that Paula McLain is a masterful author. Her books always seem to completely captive me and her newest release When the Stars Go Dark is no exception. Just like one of my recent reads What Comes After, at the heart of this story it is a mystery. There is a detective and a bit of suspense but do not go into this book thinking this is a thriller. This is a character driven mystery that is not meant to shock the pants off you, it’s instead meant to get you think about motivates and even dive into the deeper territory of right versus wrong.
Sidenote, I think that the genres Thriller and Mystery have become quite synonymous, which I think does a disserve to the genres, especially to Mysteries. A good Mystery does not need to have a ton of shock value and are built more around a puzzle. Thrillers on the other hand are more character driven and tend to rely heavily on shock value which you get when you add suspense into the novel. Mysteries, are my bread and butter. They’re my palette cleanser and my go to read when I’m feeling slumpy. They don’t HAVE to have a ton of shock value, instead they’re meant to get the reader thinking.
This is McLain’s first attempt at a mystery and I personally think she nailed it. She has such a knack for vividly capturing a place or setting, making the reader feel personally involved with the stories. I also love the way she tends to discuss deeper topics without readers realizing it. In When the Stars Go Dark, we set out to help detective Anne Hart solve a kidnapping in the small town she spent her teenage years. We jump back and forth in time between present day (1992) and Anne’s memories of growing up. As a foster child herself, Anne feels her cases on a personal level and throughout the book we watch her grapple with the results of her childhood. McLain does a fabulous job of showing us what type of person Hart is and dives deep into the psyche of each of the characters, to give this literary mystery.
The other thing I adore about McLain’s writing is how much research and heart she puts into her books. The story become personal to McLain and you can tell as much in her writing. If you read her author notes, you’ll always find very specific information as to what made her want to tell a certain story. This book is no different, and in her notes she mentions the real life cases that she incorporated into her story. I especially enjoy when fiction meshes with real stories, so this book was right up my alley.
My only comment, as this is not a compliant, but I think the book was a bit long. I was never bored during the story, but I did feel it could have wrapped up a bit sooner. There were one or two parts that seemed to just drag the story out. I don’t want to give anything away but I could have done with the last few chapters and would have preferred a different ending.
Paula McLain is, and will continue to be, an auto-buy author for me. I also wouldn’t be opposed to welcoming Anne Hart back into my life as she continues to rescue kidnapped children. If you enjoy character driven mysteries and contemporary/literary mysteries than this book is for you!
If you’re interested in another Paula McLain book, Circling the Sun is a wonderful historical fiction story about Beryl Markham, who was the first women to fly across the Atlantic solo. See my full review for it HERE.
When the Stars Go Dark comes out April 13, 2021. Thank you to Ballantine Books for my advanced copy for my honest review. If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my instagram @speakingof_books.
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