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When the Stars Go Dark

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Section-by-Section Summary for When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain.

Quick(-ish) Recap

(The one-paragraph version of this: Anna Hart is a detective and a former foster kid whose child has recently died. She goes to home and gets involved in a case where an adopted 15-year-old, Cameron, has gone missing. Anna confronts her feelings about her own experience in foster care as she investigates. There's also two more cases involving missing girls that may be connected. Working alongside her childhood friend Will who is the town sheriff, they eventually learn that their other childhood friend Caleb is the predator. Caleb's sister Jenny went missing years ago, and it turns out Caleb killed her for wanting to leave town without him and has continued killing since.)

Anna Louise Hart is a detective who specializes in violent crimes against children. After the death of her own child, her marriage with her husband Brendon falls apart, and she returns to the place she considers home.

Anna is a former foster kid. When Anna was 8, her mother died of a heroin overdose. Anna was shuffled around to various homes until moving in with her loving adoptive parents, Hep and Eden, in Mendocino when she was 10. Meanwhile, her two younger half-siblings, Jason and Amy, had been sent to live with their absent mother. When Anna was sixteen, Eden died of cancer. Then, Hap disappeared, presumed dead, two months after Anna left for college.

As the book progresses, Anna struggles with the guilt of not being able to take care of her young siblings and the grief over the loss of the two adults who truly loved and protected her.

Upon her return to Mendocino, Anna hears of a 15-year-old girl, Cameron Curtis, who has gone missing. Cameron, too, is an adoptive child, and Anna finds herself drawn to the case. Cameron's parents are a movie star, Emily, and Hollywood producer, Troy. It's unclear if Cameron ran away willingly or was abducted.

The town Sheriff leading the investigation is Will Flood. His father, Ellis Flood, had been sheriff when Anna was a kid. Ellis and Hap had been close friends, so Anna and Will had been childhood best friends, along with two twin siblings Jenny and Caleb Ford. The twins' mother left when they were young, and their father was a neglectful alcoholic painter. Jenny eventually disappeared when she was 18 and was found dead 5 days later. Her death remains unsolved.

In present day, there are two more missing girls reported in the area. Polly Klaus, 12, was kidnapped in her home during a sleepover with two friends. The dramatic nature of the kidnapping turns Polly's story into national news, attracting a ton of resources, volunteers, and media attention. The other missing girl, Shannan Russo, 17, was very troubled. Shannan had left a note saying she was leaving. It was only when a local psychic, Tally Hollander, said that Shannan was dead that her mother had reported her missing, months later.

As the investigation continues, Anna picks up a stray dog that takes a liking to her and names it Cricket. Anna is hesitant with it at first because she feels uncomfortable and guilty around animals. The day of her adoptive mother Eden's funeral, Anna purposefully harmed her family's pet raven, out of grief, causing it to run away.

As Will and Anna look into all three disappearances, Will reveals that he has been obsessively trying to solve Jenny's death for the last 20 years. He has identified 6 other girls who went missing in the area around that time in 1973. (Will also tries to kiss Anna, but she still wants to save her marriage.)

Will and Anna come to the conclusion that Shannan and Cameron's disappearances are connected, but Polly's is not. When Shannan's body is found, they determine that they are looking for a single male, with some physical strength and likely with some experience in forestry or the military. They also learn that Cameron was sexually abused by Emily's father (and possibly her brother).

Tally's visions also prove to be true, and she becomes a source of support for Anna. Anna also tracks down Cameron's older biological brother, Hector, and Anna recognizes that he has similar feelings of guilt as she does regarding Jason and Amy when it comes to not being able to protect his sister.

Eventually, Anna helps to rally community support to find Cameron. To do so, Cameron's best friend Gray brings in photo of Cameron, including one of her modeling for the camera. Anna gets the idea that perhaps Cameron wanted to model and finds a posting on a billboard for models. The phone number traces back to an artist studio which turns out to be rented out by Caleb.

The discovery leads to a confession by Caleb for Cameron's abduction, but he then escapes, though they're able to find a shelter in the woods where Caleb had been keeping her. After a long search, Anna finds Cameron alive, while the manhunt for Caleb drags on. They search his place and find many photos of girls, all of whom resemble Jenny, and Anna wonders how many victims there really were.

Finally, a few days later Caleb shows up in Anna's cabin with a knife. He admits that, back when they were 18, Jenny had wanted to leave town. He wasn't able to convince her to take him with her, and he killed her in anger over it. He then continued killing girls like her (to gain a sense of power over his feelings of abandonment and neglect -- by his parents, but by his sister most of all).

After a struggle, Anna shoots and kills Caleb, though he injures Cricket in the process. Afterwards, Tally suggests that it's time for Anna to return to her family, since her 7-month-old son Matthew still needs her. Anna explains that left because of an accident she caused. Anna left her 2-year-old daughter Sarah in a car to take a work call, and Sarah manaed to crawl out and was run over.

By the time the book closes, Anna has spent about a month in total in Mendocino. Will is hopeful that they will eventually solve the rest of the 1973 murders someday, and they part as friends. Anna is also starting to understand how to "carry" the things that have happened in her life, and she heads home with Cricket.

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Section-by-Section Summary

Prologue

The book opens by describing various mothers and how they reacted to news of their dead or missing children. Detective Anna Louise Hart then thinks about herself and her own grief after learning about the death of her child.

Part 1: Signs and Vapors

Chapters 1 – 5

Anna Hart leaves San Francisco and heads north to Santa Rosa where she checks into a Travelodge. In the motel room, Anna pumps breast milk which she knows she should throw away, but she doesn’t. In the news, they report mass casualties from an Amtrak crash in Alabama. Alone in her room, she laments the needless deaths and thinks about an old missing persons case she once worked on. She calls Brendan, her now-estranged husband of seven years, to say she wants to come home, but he insists they need some time apart.

Anna has spent that last 35 years living in Northern California, but has avoided the Mendocino area (on the far Northern coast), the place she considers home, for the last 17 years. When she was 10, Anna was dropped off in Mendocino with by her social worker, Mrs. Linda Stephens. Her new foster parents were Hap and Eden Strater. Hap was the lead warden for the U.S. Forest Service, and the Straters were experienced foster parents with no children of their own. Meanwhile, Anna had lived at half a dozen homes before theirs. She had been difficult with them, but they’d never lost their patience.

Now she’s headed back there. When she reaches Albion, a town close to Mendocino, she overhears people talking about a missing girl from a wealthy family. A missing persons bulletin nearby identifies the girl as Cameron Curtis, 15. Last seen yesterday, September 15. Anna also sees a listing for a cottage for rent, so she contacts the owner, Kirk.

The cottage is nestled in the woods, about seven miles away from town, with no phone line or TV. Anna thinks its perfect. Kirk recommends keeping a fire going for heat. However, as she settles in, Anna finds herself wondering about Cameron. For the last few years, Anna has been involved with Project Searchlight, a Bay Area initiative aimed at crimes against children, including sex crimes, trafficking, murder or abduction. It’s work Anna is good at, but her focus on it was a strain on her marriage.

Anna has a nightmare that night of a girl being chased and through kelp and shadows, and she wakes up hungover the next day. (The nightmare doesn’t make a lot of sense right now, but comes into play later.)

She drives out to Jug Handle Creek for a hike. As a kid, Hap had taught her survival skills, and they had bonded over it (“He must have guessed from the beginning that this would be the way to talk to me, survivor to survivor”). As she walks she ends up in a “Krummholz” (meaning “bent wood”) grove where Hap had once taken her. She finds herself thinking about Cameron.

Chapters 6 – 10

At the end of her hike, Anna sees a search party for Cameron gathering near the park entrance. One of the men, Will Flood, recognizes Anna from long ago, and he greets her warmly and invites her out for a drink that night. Like his father Ellis before him, Will is the town sheriff. Will tells Anna that the missing girl’s mother is Emily Hague, a well-known movie star.

Growing up, Ellis and Hap had been close friends, so Will and Anna had been thrown together as well. Anna and Will’s best friend had been a set of twins, Jenny and Caleb Ford. The Ford Twins grew up with their dad after their mother left them. Will had had a crush on Jenny, but Jenny had disappeared when she was almost 18 in August 1973, just before she was supposed to leave for college. Anna had been 15 at the time. Caleb had been certain that Jenny wouldn’t have run away without him.

That night, Anna goes to meet up with Will. He has two kids now and is married to a teacher, Beth. Anna orders a drink, but Will says he’s abstaining until Cameron is found. He mentions that Cameron is adopted. As they talk about the girl, Anna can see how stressed Will is about it, and Will mentions he now knows how stressed his father must have felt when Jenny went missing all those years ago. It took five days for two fishermen to come across Jenny’s body. She’d been strangled and dumped in the water. The investigation into Jenny’s death had lasted for months. Her father, Jack, had been an early suspect, an eccentric painter who drank too much. But they didn’t find evidence he was responsible.

Anna thinks about how Eden had been a believer in past lives and reincarnation.

She spends the next few days going on hikes until she comes across a sophisticated shelter and hunting site in the woods, similar to what the Indigenous Pomo people would have built. She wonders who built it and why. On October 1st, Anna drives into Mendocino for supplies. She comes across a couple and at the same time a dog approaches her, but Anna isn’t a dog person. Anna asks the couple to hold on to their dog, but the couple says it’s not theirs. Anna then goes to the Flood house looking for Caleb. He’s surprised to see her, but the two are soon drinking beers and catching up on the beach. Caleb talks about his time in the Navy and being stationed in the Persian Gulf during the Islamic Revolution.

Chapters 11 – 12

At one point, after a rough stretch on Project Searchlight involving multiple dead kids, Anna’s supervising officer, Frank Leary, had sent her to a therapist, named Corolla. Anna had been reluctant to talk. Corolla had asked Anna to visualize a house containing everyone she’d lost or had been unable to save, so that she could learn to carry them with her and heal. The therapist says she needs to heal the child version of herself as well.

The night after seeing Caleb, Anna has a confusing dream. In it, Eden shows her a “marker tree” (“The Pomo sometimes did this to signal one another”) with an arrow in it, before disappearing. As Anna is walking with Hap, they see the marker tree again, and the tree’s branches point down at a wounded doe. Hap tells Anna that the doe is like her, and “that’s how you’ll find her”. He says to follow the signs and that “this is why you’re here”. When she wakes, Anna knows that she needs to look for Cameron.

The dream sequence is a little confusion. But basically, subconsciously, Anna is sensing that there’s some similarity between them (“she’s just like you, honey”) that will help Anna find her, and the dream is reminding her of this.

It also ties into what the therapist said about her needing to heal herself. Anna has come back home, and presumably on a subconscious level she senses that finding Cameron can help her heal herself and that’s why she is here.

Part 2: Secret Things

Chapters 13 – 15

Anna recalls being 8 and waking up on Christmas morning to find that her mother, Robin, wasn’t home and no presents were under the tree. At that point, Anna had already been doing most of the work to raise her two half-siblings, Jason and Amy, who were 4 and 5. Her father and well as their father, Red, was behind bars for armed robbery. With him gone, her mother was often sad. Trish, the mother of Amy and Jason, wasn’t really around. That morning, Anna had comforted Amy and Jason about the lack of presents and cooked them eggs for breakfast. Then, she’d taken them to play and later made them grilled cheese sandwiches.


Anna goes to see Will, asking to help with the case. He reveals that another girl, Polly Hannah Klaas, 12, was kidnapped yesterday in Petaluma. Polly had been at a sleepover with two friends when a middle-aged man had abducted her. Eddie Van Leer is the lead detective with Petaluma PD, and Rod Fraser is the FBI special agent on the case.

Will wonders if the two cases are connected, but Anna says it’s unlikely. Polly is pre-pubescent and Cameron is not, and that distinction means different types of predators are likely to be attracted to these girls.

Polly’s case has also been very high-profile with a lot of resources thrown at it and getting national attention due to the dramatic nature of Polly’s abduction. Meanwhile, Will needs all the help he can get with Cameron’s case.


The facts of Cameron’s case: On September 21st, she’d been studying at her best friend Gray Benson‘s house and had returned home for dinner with her mother. Just after 10 PM, Emily had checked on her daughter who was in the room, alarmed the house and went to bed. At 7 AM, Emily woke up to find that Cameron was missing and the house alarm was off.

Troy Curtis, Emily’s husband, was away at their second home in Malibu. After calling him, Emily called 911. By 8 AM, the police including Will were there looking for clues. There were no signs of a break-in, no activity that night on security gate camera footage and Emily’s allowance savings were untouched.

Anna thinks it’s possible Cameron simply ran away, feeling lost in the shuffle of being a movie star’s daughter. Anna thinks about how even with good adoptive parents, being an adoptee creates trauma.

Chapters 16 – 19

That Christmas when she was 8, her mother never ended up coming home. The next morning, Anna has been making eggs again and accidentally set the fire alarm off. Unable to reach it to turn it off, the cops eventually showed up and had questions about her mother’s whereabouts.


In present day, Anna and Will go to the Curtis house, and Anna is introduced as a consulting criminal investigator. Troy describes Cameron as a bookish introvert, who had strong ideas of wanting to do good in the world. Though Troy insists that Cameron wasn’t struggling with anything, Emily admits that she and Troy been arguing more lately. She thinks Cameron was worried that they’d split up.

Emily says that Cameron never had a boyfriend. When Anna asks if there were any older men that showed an interest in Cameron, Emily identifies Cameron’s English teacher, Steve Gonzales, who encouraged her to write poetry. Anna also asks about Emily’s brother who faced rape charges 30 years ago when he was in college. Emily is defensive when the subject of her brother is brought up.

Emily shows Anna to Cameron’s room upstairs, which has already been thoroughly turned over by the police. Emily says that Cameron had been moodier lately, but she hadn’t wanted to pry.

As Anna looks around, Emily talks about her past. Her father had cheated on her mother, but they’d stayed together. Emily had left for Hollywood when she was 19. When Emily moved to Mendocino, she’d also stopped acting to try to have a more normal life for all of them. Reluctantly, Emily admits that Troy has had multiple affairs, and she provides Anna with the name of the woman he’s been seeing, who is his assistant at Paramount. Anna thinks to herself that despite hating her father’s affairs, Emily ended up marrying a man just like him.

Finally, Anna tells Emily that she doesn’t think Cameron was abducted, but rather that she likely went willingly with someone.

After Anna and Will leave, they decide they’ll need to pay a visit to Emily’s brother, Drew Hague, who lives in Napa. The girl who had accused him of rape had been 16 at the time. Will thinks Drew’s parents were the ones who made the charges go away. Anna considers that Cameron may have been groomed by someone or even actively sought out her her abuser. Anna also thinks that Cameron may have purposely evaded the security camera that night because she merely meant to sneak out and sneak back in, but things changed somehow.

Chapters 19 – 21

Anna recalls finding out that her mother had actually overdosed on heroin and died that Christmas when she was 8. She’d borrowed money from a friend to buy presents for the kids, but had spent the money on heroin instead. Afterwards, social services had taken Amy and Jason to live with their mom while Anna was taken to a safe house.


On Monday October 4, Anna and Will go to interview Gray Benson, Cameron’s best friend. Gray had an absent father growing up, and Anna concludes it’s probably one of the reasons why the two bonded. The Benson home is small and humble. Gray’s mother, Di Anne Benson, opens the door.

Gray is reluctant to talk at first, but Anna coaxes out of him that Troy’s girlfriend is actually pregnant, which Cameron was upset about. Moreover, Cameron had a variety of personal issues going on. She was starting to recall things from her early life. When she wanted to go on birth control to improve her skin, she went to a clinic that required that she get an exam, and they discovered scarring, indicating she’d possibly been abused. Gray says that after that happened, Cameron shut down and stopped talking to him.

Chapters 22 – 24

Afterwards, as Anna and Will debrief, Will gets a call about another missing girl. Shannan Russo, 17, has been missing from Gualala since June 2nd, with the investigation being led by Denny Rasmussen. It’s unclear why is wasn’t called in until now. Will leaves to check it out.

Meanwhile, Anna goes to interview Steve Gonzales. He says that Cameron had showed him some poems she’d written that were really good, though a bit dark. He’s offered to publish them in the school magazine, and she’d said she’d think about it. In Cameron’s locker, Anna finds a stack of books including a copy of Jane Eyre, plus a postcard where Cameron has transcribed a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke which talks about “a lie” and “secret things”. Anna suspects that Cameron had been abused and had suppressed the memory as a protective mechanism.

Later, Anna and Will meet up at a bar. Will looks dejected after a depressing day. Shannnan is a drug user and has been sexually active since at least the sixth grade. While she’s a habitual runaway, this time around she left a note saying she wasn’t coming back and didn’t want anyone to come looking for her. Her mom, Karen Russo, thought Shannan could have been headed to Seattle. But, she got a call from a local psychic, Tally Hollander, who said she had a vision of Shannan being dead in a forest, so Karen finally called it in. Will says that the same psychic also called in after Cameron went missing to say that Cameron was being held in a dark, tight space.


Then, Anna remembers that Will had mentioned that Emily failed her polygraph. Anna has some skepticism of polygraph tests, which people who lack a conscience can often pass, but she still wants to know the details. Will says Emily’s heart rate spiked whenever they asked “Have you ever done harm to your daughter?” But that could just be a manifestation of Emily’s guilt over failing to protect her daughter.

Anna insists to Will that they need to look more into the possible abuse angle. She tells Will how most sexual abuse of child starts between the ages of 7 and 13. It’s been theorized that after being abused, it affects people in a way where other abusers are drawn to that person. Anna describes it as a “bat signal”.

Chapters 25 – 26

The next day, October 5, Will and Anna head into Petaluma to look into Polly’s case. Anna reminds Will that they also need to look into Shannan’s disappearance, saying that “just because the girl’s led a troubled life doesn’t mean she’s not worth our time”.

In Petaluma, they’re greeted by Sergeant Barresi. He gives them a rundown on the case, and then they head to the home of Eve Nichols, Polly’s mother. Eve is divorced from Polly’s father, Marc Klaas, but they are amicable. Eve and Annie, Polly’s half-sister, are away, staying with friends. FBI Agent Rob Fraser is there and recognizes Anna. He says that the two other girls at the sleepover were Gillian Pelham and Kate McLean.

Rob says Eve and Annie went to bed around 9:30. Polly encounters the man — carrying a knife, duffel bag, rope, hood, etc — in the hallway around 10:30. According to the girls, he asked which one of them lived in the house (Polly). He then reassured them he wasn’t really going to hurt them as he gagged them and tied them off, before carrying Polly away.

As they discuss the two cases, Anna knows that Rob trusts her instincts, so that if she told them she saw a link between the two cases, Rob would likely direct some of his vast resources towards Cameron’s case. However, Anna tells him honestly that she thinks a link is unlikely. When they bring up Shannan’s disappearance and the psychic, Rob mentions that some psychic had contacted them about it as well, though he’s dismissive of it.

Chapters 27 – 29

Anna is not entirely dismissive of psychics, having involved them in past cases. Eden was also someone who was “sensitive” to things. She said she had flashes of visions of people needing her help, and she tried to assist when it made sense. Still, Eden said there wasn’t a way to change the future. Anna also thinks about how Eden had comforted her over her guilt from not finding a way to keep her family together and to take care of her two half-siblings.

After the discussion with Rob, Will is frustrated that Anna rejected the notion of a connection between the two cases, thereby denying them possible FBI resources. Still, as they walk off, Rob offers to have their helicopter patrol take some aerial photographs of the relevant areas in the two other cases, assistance which Anna gratefully accepts.

In town, they pass by a press conference regarding the investigation on Polly’s disappearance. The story has attracted a large number of volunteers to help search, plus an empty retail space has been offered up to serve as the Polly Klaus Search Center. Fliers have been handed out to truck and bus drivers passing through to be distributed as well. In the street, Polly’s classmates have erected a huge banner.

In seeing the onslaught of public support for Polly, Anna tells Will to encourage Emily to take her story to the media instead of trying to hush it up. When Will says she isn’t ready, Anna says it “isn’t about her“.

Chapter 30

Will and Anna head to Napa to see Drew, where he runs a vineyard called Provisions. At their luxurious home, His wife Lydia greets them at the door, barefoot and wearing overalls. She explains that they are harvesting their grapes right now. Lydia sends their assistant, Janice, to track down Drew’s whereabouts.

In the meantime, they sit down with Lydia who explains that they moved out here five years ago. Their son, Ashton, is two years older than Cameron. Lydia says that she disapproves of Emily staying with Troy despite his infidelity, and comments that Cameron has gotten increasingly guarded as she’s gotten older. The last time she saw them was in July, and Cameron was upset because she had just learned that Troy’s girlfriend was pregnant. Cameron had picked up the phone when she’d called, and the girlfriend had told her the news.

The night of Cameron’s disappearance, Lydia says she and Drew were harvesting grapes from 7 PM until 2 or 3 AM in the morning. Anna thinks to herself that Lydia seems credible. Still, Will insists on a polygraph for both Lydia and Drew, which seems to anger Drew. Anna senses Drew trying to intimidate her by getting too close to her before they depart the Hague home. Before they leave, Lydia says that if there’s some type of effort to start a public search center for Cameron, that they’d like to contribute money.

Chapters 31 – 34

Afterwards, Will and Anna comment on how it’s strange Lydia and Drew are so wrapped up in their harvest instead of supporting Emily in this time, especially since it’s not like they need the money. Clearly there’s been some type of rift, but it must be pretty significant for them to not even go to see them.

Anna also thinks getting the public interested in the story should be a priority. The Curtises have isolated from the community since they moved there, so it won’t easy, but Anna thinks that getting more attention will be important to have the manpower to find Cameron.

That night, Anna takes a walk to think, and she ends up on a bluff that she recognizes from the nightmare she had the first night she returned to the area (of a girl being chased). She climbs down to the sand below to inspect it, not realizing until too late that she doesn’t have a way to get back up.

A man spots her and throws down a rope. It turns out to be Clay LaForge, who Anna had met that one day when she’d driven into Mendocino for supplies (part of the couple when the dog had approached her). He says that his girlfriend, Lenore, saw her walking in this direction and had told him to go check on her. Anna deduces that Clay and Lenore sleep in a tent in the park, and she asks him what he’s seen relating to Cameron since he seems to recognize everyone in town by sight. He says that Cameron never came through there that he’s seen. Anna tells Clay that she once had a pet raven named Lenore.


Anna recalls Eden getting sick when she was 16. Later, they learned she had endometrial cancer. On her last good day, they went to the beach and saw six humpback whales. Eden had commented that six “is the number for spirit”. She’d died three weeks later.

Upon learning of her death, Anna had gone into the woods to walk around, not knowing how else to process her grief, since Eden was her only real mother. When she finally had gotten home, it was late. When Lenore (the raven) came to greet her, Anna had hit the bird. Lenore had fought back, but Anna had then grabbed the bird roughly and thrown it outside. A short while later, she realizes what she’s done and goes to find the bird, but it’s gone. Anna is left feeling sorry.

After Eden dies, Anna is not just hurt and sad, but also angry. She knows what she’s lost and what she’s missed out on in not having someone to take care of her as a kid and no longer having a mother now. Unable to process her anger, she takes it out on the family pet, likely because it just happens to be there.


In present day, the same dog that had approached Anna the other day comes trotting towards them. Anna comments that she can’t keep a dog because she’s “made mistakes” (thinking about Lenore). Clay seems to think the dog has chosen Anna and now it’s hers. Anna decides to keep the dog, which Clay says is a Belgian Malinois mix, though she isn’t sure what to call him yet. Afterwards, Anna runs into Caleb at the grocery store and invites him for a drink, but he declines.

Anna has been avoiding animals likely because she still feels guilty about what she did to Lenore. It was likely some combination of bringing up feelings of shame and also avoiding them because she feels she doesn’t deserve to be a pet owner.

Chapters 35 – 36

The next morning Will is set to polygraph Lydia and Drew. Anna wants to help, but Will says no thanks, and she wonders if he’s mad at her (either about what happened with Rob or something else). Instead, Anna takes her dog to go investigate the woods which are adjacent to the Curtis house and separate it from the coast road roughly half a mile away. After a few hours, her search proves fruitless.

Next, Anna seeks out the psychic, Tally Hollander. She’s surprised to find her living in a modern farmhouse with a slick airstream trailer next to it. Tally sells a variety of goods including alpaca wool, milk, honey, cheese and jam.

As they chat, Tally says she’s always had visions like these about the missing girls, but lately they’ve been stronger. Tally says that Shannan died wearing a rabbit-fur jacket. She also says she thinks Cameron is alive but won’t be for long if whoever has her isn’t stopped. Then, Tally says that trauma changes a person’s energy fundamentally, and she can tell that Anna is the right person to find Cameron. Tally seems to think the same person is responsible for both missing girls, and she encourages Anna to look further into Shannan’s death in order to help lead her to Cameron. (Tally also comments that Anna’s dog sounds like a cricket when she breathes, so Anna names it Cricket.

Afterwards, Anna meets up with Will. He says there wasn’t anything suspicious based on the polygraphs and that Drew’s alibi checks out. Will also says Drew’s rape charge is not “black and white” and seems to dismiss it. Will has also looked into Troy’s girlfriend, Indiana Silverstein, who is apparently not cooperating. They’ve also reserved the community center for Saturday to drum up public interest in the search for Cameron. It’s now been two weeks since she went missing.

Meanwhile, Polly’s father Marc says he got a 1-minute call yesterday at 3:02 PM from Polly, who was scared and said she was at hotel with the man who took her.

Chapters 37 – 39

Anna fills Gray on the community center event, and he agrees to make a collage of Cameron’s life. He also plans to reach out to Cameron’s best friend before him, Caitlyn Muncy. Anna then fills in Emily on the plan for community outreach, though Emily is against the idea.

When Emily asks if Anna has kids, Anna is reminded of a conversation she had once with Frank where he had described his kids as being his version of therapy. As for herself, Anna had doubts about her ability to raise a family. Anna as very aware of all the terrible examples of parent she’d seen growing up, and at that point still thought of Amy and Jason as her “botched” chance to raise kids.

She’d been able to check in on them (secretly) with police resources, to look up their addresses or if they’d gotten speeding tickets. Last she’d checked, Jason was a day laborer living in Daly City who visited a methadone clinic regularly (used to help with substance abuse). Amy was still living in Redding and had been married twice. It wasn’t until Anna met Brendan who came from a large, happy family that she thought she could maybe envision that life for herself.


When the collage for Cameron is done, Anna goes to see Emily again. Anna asks Emily more about her own life. She described how in her family they were all about politeness, civility and keeping up pretenses. She wasn’t allowed to “acknowledge her own feelings”, and Anna suggests that maybe the freedom to express emotions is why Emily was drawn towards acting.

Part 3: Time and the Maiden

Chapters 40 – 41

As requested by Anna, Will is able to get a warrant to open Cameron’s adoption file so they can learn about her past before the Curtises. Anna volunteers to go to Sacramento, where Catholic Family Charities is located, to pick up the file.

It turns out Cameron was originally Lisa Marie Gilbert, born on March 20, 1978 from Ukiah, which is roughly 30 miles from Mendocino. Emily and Troy had been living in Malibu when they’d adopted Cameron. In the file, there’s a photo of 3-year-old Cameron with a roughly 10-year-old boy, presumably her brother.

Anna knows she should update Will, but part of her is worried he won’t want her to interview the parents. Moreover, Anna just doesn’t want his permission. Instead, she heads to Ukiah where Cameron’s birth parents are, alone. Anna had been placed there briefly, twice, as a foster child.

In this part, we see how Anna’s getting too close to the case, through her insistence on picking up the Cameron’s file herself and the possessiveness she feels over it and the case in general. She’s clearly taking this case very personally, driven by more than just a professional desire to see this through.

Her similarities to Cameron — being adopted, identifying with Jane Eyre, and now having lived in the same town for some duration — are drawing her further into the case.

Anna arrives at 3581 Willow, not knowing if Ruben or Jackie Gilbert still live there. A man outside says that they moved and is reluctant to talk to Anna, but then someone named Hector comes out of the house willing to talk.

Chapter 42

Hector is around 21 or 22-ish, and is Lisa/Cameron’s biological brother. He says the guy outside is his Uncle Carl. Hector’s dad had been mixed up in “drug stuff” and is now in prison at San Quentin. Social services took Lisa/Cameron away due to someone anonymously reporting his parents for negligence. Their mother left town with some guy a while back.

Hector was also taken to various foster homes, but he ran away a bunch of times and was never adopted. He finally returned here at 18, though his parents were gone by then. Hector expresses regret that he couldn’t have taken care of Lisa himself, and he talks about how he had always taken care of her. It reminds Anna of herself with Jason and Amy.

Hector describes Lisa as someone who was always talking, singing and dancing. Anna asks if her behavior shifted at some point, and Hector says no. He also says that Lisa was a fighter. Before Anna leaves, she leaves him his number, and Hector encourages her to contact him if he can help with anything. Anna feels sad leaving him in that decrepit, dingy house, but reminds herself that he’s an adult and not asking to be saved.

We can see Anna’s tendency to feel a kinship with others who have had similar experiences to her hers and her desire to save them. Even in her brief interaction with Hector, hearing him talk about Lisa in the same way she thought about her half-siblings, she feels a strong desire to help him even though that’s not the point of her visit and he’s not asking for help.

Chapters 43 – 44

When Anna finally checks back in with Will, it’s late. She admits that she went to see the family and talked to Hector. Will is displeased with her for bypassing him. He points out that she didn’t even bother to ask about alibis or to get license plates. Instead, she was too focused on listening to Hector’s story. Anna gets defensive and says she needs to trust her instincts, but Will says it’s his job to ask these types of questions.

Afterwards, Will updates Anna on what’s been going on. He shows her a video of the two girls from Polly’s sleepover, Kate and Gillian, being interviewed on that night’s episode of America’s Most Wanted. Apparently, the story has caught the interest of Winona Ryder, who once lived in Petaluma, who has gotten donations from other celebrities to offer up a $2 million reward if Polly is found.

Additionally, someone in Silicon Valley saw the story and has been spreading Polly’s poster all around the internet so millions of people have seen it. As for the phone call from Polly to her father, Reb thinks that it was a prank. Anna also tells Will about seeing Tally and that she plans on following up more on Shannan’s disappearance.

Chapters 45 – 47

The next day, Anna heads to All About Hair, the salon where Karen (Shannan’s mother) works. Karen very reluctantly agrees to a quick coffee with Anna. She says that Shannan didn’t care about school and didn’t want a mother. Karen admits that she’d given up trying. Shannan’s father left when she was 2, so Karen raised her alone. Karen thinks that it’s possible Shannan was prostituting herself for money. She knows one of the men bought her a nice, fur coat. She shows Anna a photo of Shannan, who was quite beautiful.


Anna thinks back to when she was around 6 or 7 and the police had come to take her father away. Then she thinks about happier memories, like laying in the grass with Hap and Eden.


On Saturday, Anna meets up with Gray and his mother Di Anne at the community center. Gray shows Anna the stuff he’s collected, such as some of Cameron’s writings, photos and even an old video of the two of them singing together.

By 6:15 people are starting arrive, many with potluck dishes. Anna sees Steve arrives with his wife, Clay and Lenore, Lydia, and even Caleb. Will’s wife and kids show up, and his hesitancy over going over to greet them confirms Anna’s suspicion that he and his wife and likely separated. Two reporters are there, but without camera crews. Anna tries to console herself that the turnout at the event is still larger than expected.

Once people are situated Will talks, followed by Troy, each asking the community to join in the efforts to find her. However, Emily doesn’t show up. When the event ends up, people eventually filter out. Tally introduces Anna to her husband Sam, a Native American man in a wheelchair, who runs a yoga studio. He invites Anna to one of his classing, saying he focuses on working with people who need help with the mind-body connection.

Chapters 48 – 49

Afterwards, Anna and Will go back to his place, a studio apartment, for a drink. He says that he moved out of his home (with Beth) a few months ago. They talk about Anna’s conversation with Karen, and whether there’s a connection between the two.

Finally, Will shows her his files on Jenny’s case from long ago. There were 6 other missing girls in an 18 month period from when she went missing, and Will always thought that they were connected. Will admits that he’s been obsessing about it since Jenny died, and that it likely ruined his marriage. However, now with new tools like the internet, national databases and with Anna here, Will wonders if they can finally solve Jenny’s case.

Then, Will kisses Anna, but she stops him. Despite her also wanting some comfort, she knows that she hasn’t given up on her marriage yet. Before they can talk further about what happened, a call comes in reporting that Shannan’s car was spotted by one of the helicopters surveying the area.

Chapters 50 – 53

A few hours later, they’re both in the Montgomery Woods where Shannan’s car was found, where Denny and others working on her case are gathered. They pop open the trunk to find her body there, and she appears to have been tortured prior to her death. The medical examiner Robert Lisicky handles the body. It looks like the car was set on fire, though the fire didn’t spread past the perimeter of the car, indicating whoever did this was experienced with fires. Denny suggests that it might be a forest ranger or someone else familiar with the area that did this.


Anna thinks back to going to the Montgomery Woods with Hap as a kid. They had hiked deep into the woods. Then Hap had told her, as a survival test to show her how competent and resourceful she saw, to lead them back, and she did it.


The next day, the autopsy reports show strangulation as the cause of death. Will is upset, thinking about Jenny (who also died via strangulation). Will comments that Drew is an outdoorsy-type (which they suspect the perpetrator was) and that he didn’t show up to the community meeting about Cameron. He has a follow-up polygraph scheduled for two days from now.

Anna theorizes that the perpetrator may be someone who is damaged and believes someone like Cameron can “fix” him (“guys who are outsiders and can’t get close to people sometimes fixate on an innocent as a chance to redeem themselves”). She thinks back to a book on the criminal psyche that Frank gave them all to read at one point.

Frank had also suggested that Anna would be a good person to write a follow-up book on the victims of those predators and the hows and whys of the way they are targeted. Frank had mentioned how deeply Anna cares about her cases, but Anna knows that she gets too obsessed and too close to her cases. She thinks about the case she had worked just after getting off maternity leave, which ended in them finding the body of a six-month-old infant, Jamie Riviera, at the bottom of a freezer in the family’s basement.

Part 4: The Bent Grove

Chapters 54 – 56

The discovery of Shannan’s body has helped them to build a possible profile for the perpetrator. Single, 27-45 (since he exhibited physical strength), and likely a parks employee, firefighter or with a military background. The hard evidence of a crime has also led to more resources and volunteers for the search for Cameron as well, and the land around the Curtis’s house is now being thoroughly searched. The search center is also running 24/7.

Soon, Hector shows up determined to do what he can to help. He sees a photo of Cameron that Gray had brought in and zeros in on it, since in it Cameron is dressed up, made up and posing. Anna realizes it was taken at the krummholz grove that she’d hiked to a few weeks before. Anna asks Gray about the photo, and he says Cameron suggested they take the photos because he’d just gotten a new camera. Anna wonders if Cameron had wanted to try modeling. Anna then heads out to the grove, hoping to find some type of clue.

As she’s there, Anna thinks about a story Hap had once told her right after Eden’s funeral. They’d been searching for two twin boys lost in the woods. When they found them, it turns out one had accidentally shot the other. Instead of going for help, the shooter had hid the body and stayed there, too, wracked with guilt. By staying, the weight of his body inadvertently prevented the other boy from bleeding out, thus saving his brother’s life. Hap tells her that sometimes you just don’t know how things are going to turn out.

A year after, she’d left for college. Two months later, on November 12, 1976, she’d been told that they’d found his pack on one of the trails, but no sign of him. Unable to find him, Ellis Flood thought it was possible Hap went out that day intending to take his own life.

Chapters 57 – 58

Next, Anna heads for Navarro Beach, where a group is gathering to search for Cameron, organized by Caitlyn’s father Bill Muncy. She sees that Emily and Hector are there, too. Anna takes the opportunity to talk to Emily. She asks her about if Cameron was interested in modeling, and Emily says she wouldn’t have let her.

Anna also asks if Cameron’s personality changed at some point, and Emily says no, but she does say that Cameron had mono in 4th grade and stayed home for one term. Anna says her suppressed immune system could have been caused by stress. As Anna continues questioning Emily, Emily reveals that when Cameron was in third grade, her whole family started getting together at their beach house over Christmas. There, Cameron had her own room (whereas in previous get-togethers Cameron had shared with her parents).

Emily is distraught, realizing it’s likely her father had sexually abused Cameron, or possibly her brother. Her parents stopped coming out and it seemed like Cameron was getting better. Given that her father no longer travels, it’s unlikely he was the one who abducted Cameron, but at least they know what was bothering her.

Afterwards, Will updates Anna that they’ve found some of Shannan’s things in the woods, including a few hundred dollars, which means they can rule out theft as the motivation for her death. They also found a camera, and Will gets Anna a copy of the photos they recovered. Anna in turn tells Will what she learned from Emily, and Will then goes to polygraph Drew.

Anna doesn’t find much on the photos, but shows Tally a picture where Shannan is wearing her fur coat, and Tally confirms it’s the one she saw in her vision. Tally also lets her bottle-feed a newborn alpaca (called a “cria”).

Chapters 59 – 61

That night, Anna and Will meet up at her cabin. Will says that Drew’s polygraph was “all over the place”, but he seems to have some feeling of guilt associated with Cameron.

After he leaves, Anna falls asleep and dreams. In it, a Pomo purification ritual is going on, and Hap is there. Anna worries about not being able to find Cameron, but Hap says “you’ve already found her, Anna. See? She’s been here the whole time.”


Anna goes to the Goodlife Cafe to pick up coffee, and it occurs to her that the abductor could have been hidden in plain sight. She spots a posting on the billboard that reads “ARTIST’S MODEL WANTED”.

Anna immediately heads to the Sheriff’s office and asks to look up the phone number listed on the ad, which turns out to be the Mendocino Art Center, Studio #4, just a few blocks away. She leaves a message to tell Will to meet her there.

Outside the studio, the supervisor, Stan Wilkes, tells her that Studio #4 has been empty for a while, though someone else is coming at the end of the month. He agrees to let her take a look inside, and she finds a small room with a workbench and easel. There’s also a stack of canvases, and Anna is surprised when she recognizes Jack Ford’s (Caleb and Jenny’s father) signature on them, knowing these must be worth serious money.

Will arrives and sees the canvases as well. Will suggests it might indicate that Caleb is involved somehow because Jack’s work all belongs to him. Further inspection reveals that the canvases depicts a carving that’s above the town’s Masonic Hall called The Time and the Maiden, all versions of the same thing — a maiden, wings, a scythe with a dark blue background.

Chapters 62 – 63

Anna walks over to Caleb’s house and sees him working on an easel; she’d forgotten that he was also an artist. She tells him what they found and asks him to ID the paintings. She senses a shift in energy when she mentions the painting, and Anna is suddenly on guard.

Caleb locks up and agrees to head over to the Art Center to look at the canvases, but before they go, Anna catches a glimpse of a photograph on his workbench and recognizes something in it — it’s the shelter similar to the Pomo one she saw in the woods. Then, Caleb gets into the car and says “if you follow me, I’ll kill her” before speeding off.

It hits Anna that Caleb matches the profile of what they are looking for, someone with a difficult childhood and who’d lost his sister in an unsolved crime. Anna quickly calls the sheriff’s office to call it in. When Will shows up to pick her up, Anna tells him he’s sure that Caleb is headed to the woods, likely to kill Cameron. As they head there, Will calls in to direct another convoy of people to assist in a search-and-rescue mission in the area.

Despite the stormy weather, they search the woods until they finally come across the shelter. Inside, no one is there, but there’s signs of a struggle and blood. Anna recognizes grimly that Caleb likely has been raping and torturing her in there.

Chapters 64 – 65

As the teams split up to continue the search, Anna heads into a valley, but slips. She ends up bruised and cut up far down at the bottom of the valley floor. As she carefully moves forward, she trips, but keeps making her way through the spongy forest floor.

Then she spots Cameron, looking very thin, pale and weak. Anna explains that she’s a detective on her case just as there’s a rustling in the brush. She looks to see Hector standing there. Hector rushes to help with Cameron, and Anna contacts Will on the walkie-talkie to report she’s been found alive.

Cameron is rushed to the hospital, where Emily and Troy are waiting as doctors attend to Cameron.
When Anna is finally able to go in to see Cameron, she doesn’t want to talk and Anna is reluctant to push her.

At the hospital, Anna also talks to Hector who says that he followed the patrol cars when he saw them headed for the woods. Hector is clearly still upset to learn what has happened to his sister. In an effort to distract him, Anna asks him to check in on her dog and bring her here. Anna is also reminded of the date, October 14, and she can’t believe that she’s only been here for three weeks after all that has transpired.

Chapter 66

With Caleb still free, the manhunt continues with an army of people brought in to help, plus his photo is released online. On October 15, someone identifies his abandoned car based on its license-plate and calls it in, but there’s still no sign of Caleb. When they search Caleb’s place, they find a series of three portraits he painted of Shannan.

When Cameron is finally read to talk, Anna is painfully aware that they are asking her to revisit things she’d rather forget. Her memory is also fragmented and unfocused. She confirms that she’d responded to the ad, that they’d met up in a public place. Then, she’d taken the photos with Gray since he wanted to see a portfolio, and she’d met up with him again later and eventually started sitting for portraits with him.

Nothing had seemed off to her, and in the meantime Cameron had been dealing with her personal issues like learning about Troy’s pregnant girlfriend and her trauma from the free clinic. Cameron had agreed to sneak out one night to meet an art friend of Caleb’s and that’s the night he abducted her. When she realized he wasn’t headed unto town as expected, she tried to get out of the car, but he attacked her.

Chapter 67

By the end of the month, on Halloween they still haven’t found him. Cameron has now been released from the hospital.

Anna thinks about the many photographs of girls they’d found at Caleb’s place, all that looked like Jenny, and she wonders how many more victims there were. While Jenny’s death must’ve set something off in him, she thinks it was really a combination of that and aspects of things in childhood even before then — his mother abandoning them and his father’s treatment of them — that led to this result. Anna surmises that through his victims, he felt he could “overthrow the helplessness he felt as a boy, and exert a sense of power”.

As Anna thinks about these things, she suddenly realizes that Caleb is there in her cabin, sitting on the couch. In front of him is a hunting knife. Cricket is there, and even though she’s met Caleb before, she seems to sense that something is wrong.

Anna and Caleb start to talk. Anna says that she thinks Cameron was special to him, which is why he kept her there so long without killing her. When she asks if it’s because she reminded him the most of Jenny, Caleb gets irritated.

Anna starts to probe at his feelings about his family. Anna mentions that his mom didn’t come back even when Jenny died, but Caleb seems to excuse his mom’s behavior, saying that she cared, but probably wasn’t able to come back because she wasn’t a strong person. When the topic of his father comes up, Caleb is dismissive of him, but not angry.

Instead, Anna realizes the one Caleb is mad at was Jenny. He was angry that she left him and considers it a betrayal. Caleb then admits that he was the one who killed Jenny. She wanted to leave and he wanted to go with her. But she said no. Instead, he caught up to her as she was trying to leave and killed her.

Suddenly, Caleb lunges at Anna, but then he trips. As Cricket growls at him, Anna runs for the bedroom and is able to get her hands on a gun. She hears Cricket yelp loudly behind her. After a struggle, she fires three shots into Caleb’s chest, and exits the room to see Cricket bleeding on the ground.

Chapter 68

By November 4, Anna and Cricket are staying at Tally’s farmhouse, and Cricket is recovering. When Anna suggests that she might head to Petaluma to try to help with Polly’s case, Tally admits that she’s had another vision. She says that they won’t find her for a while, but Polly is gone and she knows that they’ll find her and her killer eventually. Tally also says that Polly’s case will change the way they handle missing persons cases.

When Tally suggests it’s time for Anna to return to her family, Anna finally tells Tally more about herself. She says that her son, Matthew, is seven months old. Anna had strapped her 2-and-a-half daughter Sarah in the car when she’d gotten a phone call about a major development in a case she’d been working on. When she got off the phone, she saw that Sarah had gotten out of the car somehow (the door was left open so Anna could see her better), and the neighbor had backed up onto her.

Anna says that her husband Brendan asked her to leave, saying that her single-minded focus on her work could put their son at risk, too. Even if Brendan is ready to reconsider, Anna knows that she hasn’t changed and that she still lets her cases swallow her whole.

Tally tells her that Sarah watches over the rest of her family and that she has a dog just like cricket. She says the way to honor Sarah’s life is to live her own with purpose. Tally also senses there’s something else that Anna can’t let go of, and Anna thinks about Jason and Amy.

Before Anna leaves, she brings up Hap and how she’s hasn’t been able to let him go either. Tally points out that in the way that all of Hap’s lessons and his voice reside within her, Anna always has him with her and is never really alone. (“The people we love never leave us, Anna. You know that already. That’s what I mean by spirit. I mean love.”)

Chapters 69 – 70

For her last day in Mendocino, Anna goes to see Hap and Eden’s house, to see Lenore and Clay and to say goodbye to the Curtises. She sees Cameron and Gray listening to music in Cameron’s room. Emily confirms that Cameron is in therapy, making progress and that she’s determined to support her.

The last person she says goodbye to is Will, and she tells him the truth about everything that was going on with her before she came here. Will admits that it wasn’t just his job but also his drinking that resulted in his separation from Beth. Will and Anna agree to support each other, and Will says that he’s still hopeful that the two of them will solve the rest of the 1973 murders.

Before she leaves, Anna takes a last look at the Time and the Maiden sculpture, where a raven is perched, thinking that she’s always been drawn to it. In it, she sees Jenny and the other missing girls. It also reminds her of herself, arriving in Mendocino as a child and daring to hope that love could save her if she let it.

In the end, Anna thinks about how she’d starting to understand the meaning of learning “to carry” the things that happen to you and learning to survive together. As the raven flies away, Anna, along with Cricket, heads for the road home.

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