Review | I'll Be Gone In The Dark | Michelle McNamara
Publication Date: 2/27/18
Page Count: 328
Why I read it: I'm a true crime addict and I couldn't resist. I was also drawn in because of the author- the late Michelle McNamara. She was a true crime blogger and the wife of Patton Oswald.
Synopsis: From Amazon-
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.
Opening Sentence: "That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter's playroom."
My Thoughts: I'm truly shaken. I've been meaning to post my thoughts since I finished the book last month, but to be honest I had to take some time to digest all that I'd read. Then today (4/25/18), word got out that the Golden State Killer has been caught. Yes, just a mere TWO MONTHS after Michelle McNamara's book was published, a suspect tip came to the Sacramento police. They were able to retrieve his DNA and found it was a 100% match to that of the Golden State Killer, a serial killer who is believed to have committed 12 murders and over 50 rapes. The crimes were committed in both Northern and Southern California, and the case has been cold for years.
At last, he's been unmasked. On National DNA Day, no less. If you want to go into a deep dive, here's the Reddit thread about the East Area Rapist/ Original Night Stalker, aka the Golden State Killer.
But back to the book. I enjoyed it immensely- as much as one can enjoy a book about a serial killer rapist. This is largely due to Michelle's skill as a writer. Her tone is so authentic. The writing is strong and she seamlessly weaves facts in with a narrative, drawing you right into the story. There's immense detail and the book could have been extremely dry, but she brought a human element into the victims/ survivors. I also appreciate that the book wasn't exploitative. You can tell she had such compassion for her work and a respect for law enforcement. She was the type of author that I would find myself visiting on Instagram to tell them how much I enjoyed their work. I have to imagine it's painful for her loved ones to read this, but they should be proud. Her hard work has paid off.
There are a ton of resources in the book, including a map of the attacks, a list of the victims, and a list of the key investigators. We get to learn about policing in the 1970s and how different things are today. Back then, there weren't separate crime divisions. You were considered to have experience if you worked on a similar crime once. This was also a stark reminder of how new DNA testing really is- Alec Jeffreys only discovered DNA fingerprinting in 1984 (a fact I learned from this book). I find it absolutely incredible that profilers are able to connect cases that are seemingly unrelated to form a narrative that can be used to find the responsible. As of this writing, the public doesn't have information about where the tip used to catch him came from, but I imagine everything will come out. Already, I can see that some of the suppositions in the book are true- they had an idea about what jobs he might have and where he lived. I already want to re-read this so I can see how much they had correct.
There are many haunting passages in this book (the ones where Michelle talks about her family, not knowing how much time she herself has left comes to mind), but none are more impactful to me than the epilogue. She titles it "A Letter to an Old Man".
"'You'll be silent forever, and I'll be gone in the dark,' you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light."
I found this book to be disturbing, thought provoking, exciting, and painful. It reads like a memoir with hugely disturbing bits subtly woven in. This book will scare you- but it's an important reminder that these crimes are real. You might feel, as I do, compelled to make changes to your own home. After all, "prowling is the easiest thing in the world to do." Sometimes I feel bad about reading true crime, thinking about someone profiting off of these terrible acts. But this book is decidedly different- McNamara had a passion and thirst to find out who was behind all of this depravity. She was trying to do good. And ultimately (despite what the Sacramento police officers acknowledge)- she has.
Find me me here!