“When the Stars Go Dark” is not for every reader. It focuses on an issue involving children; the subject matter is disturbing and may be upsetting for some readers, but those who read will have much to consider.
The story is well written and compelling. It unfolds in a first person narrative by detective Anna Louise Hart who has suffered an unspeakable personal loss. Gradually, slowly, sentence by sentence, she tells the story of her past in the midst of the trauma of the present. She talks directly to readers, reminisces about the past, contemplates the future, and flounders in the stark reality of the present.
Hart is part of “Project Searchlight” which focuses on crimes against children by strangers or even by their own family members. Many are murdered or stolen, rendered powerless, and sold invisibly. Hart had always felt a need to help people; however, sometimes it gets to be too much, no matter how hard she tries. The things she has seen do not go away; they build up inside her and take a toll. There is also an older trauma that she has not really accepted; she is neither infallible nor secure. She escapes to her childhood home town Mendocino, longing for its delicate sunsets; the sun a ball of widening orange-pink taffy sliding into the Pacific as if slowly melting. Instead, what she finds waiting are forgotten ghosts and overlooked messages; a person from her past and a missing girl in the present collide in a confusion of clues and evil.
The pace is fast, taking place in just a month, a single cycle of the moon, and there is a lot of darkness before the dawn. Hart perseveres because she knows that everyone wants to be looked for, whether they realize it or not. I received a review copy of “When the Stars Go Dark” from Paula McLain, Ballantine Books, and Penguin Random House Publishing. It is traumatic, dark, and compelling.
Author’s note “It’s a door we don’t want to open, a conversation we don’t want to have, and yet the facts remain: every seventy-three seconds someone in America becomes the victim of a sexual assault. Every nine minutes one of those victims is a child.