All The Books I Can Read

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Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

on July 18, 2018

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark 
Michelle McNamara
Faber & Faber
2018, 328p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade – from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.’

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, 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. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic – and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’m not sure if I heard of this book first or if the arrest of the Golden State Killer brought it to my attention. I didn’t know much about the case, given that it’s American and decades old. But I definitely remember reading about there finally being an arrest this year and going and researching the story. It’s amazing to think that this person offended so frequently and yet police in several different jurisdictions had so little to go on.

This book feels really bittersweet to read. It’s the result of so much hard work on the part of Michelle McNamara, a dedicated writer who must’ve logged thousands of hours following leads in a case that had been cold for years. Unfortunately she never lived to see either the publication of this book, nor the arrest of the suspect as she died in her sleep during the writing of this book, which was finished off by several people working from her notes. It’s an incomplete story in itself, as it was published before the arrest was made but it’s so comprehensive and thorough.

This was an offender who raped more than 50 women, committed at least 12 murders and was responsible for about 100 burglaries. For months, he terrified areas in California in three separate crime waves as he targeted neighbourhoods on the regular, stalking his victims and knowing their routines before striking. He always woke his victims in the middle of the night, when they were in bed, often shining a flashlight into their eyes, gaining the upper hand immediately. He became unconcerned if the women had husbands or partners in the room with them, making the women tie the men up at gunpoint, often placing plates on the males’ backs (he’d have them laying facedown in bed) and saying he’d shoot the woman if he heard the plates move. It’s interesting that these three different crime waves were given different nicknames by the investigating officers and it was some time before they were all connected and people began to realise that it had been the same person responsible for all of these incidents.

The crimes spanned from 1974-1986. Over the years several suspects were questioned and then cleared. But it wasn’t until the DNA obtained from some of the crime scenes was uploaded into a genetic database that police were able to make a match. That raises an interesting thing all on its own – these ‘find my ancestor’ type sites are popping up everywhere. You submit a DNA cheek swab and it goes into a database that can match you up with relatives with common ancestors from generations ago, all over the world. But now it’s also a valuable tool for police as well – by submitting DNA from unsolved crimes, the actual person doesn’t even need to be in the online database. Just people that are related to them.

But for me, reading this, it wasn’t really about the killer himself, it was more about Michelle McNamara and the efforts she’d gone to in order to bring this perpetrator to justice. The book is so incredibly thorough – it’s not written in a grisly way, despite the fact that it covers some truly heinous crimes. I’d recommend it not be read if you’re at home alone at night though! It’s an investigative masterpiece on many levels and the writing style is straightforward but intimate and with real warmth. It almost feels like discussing it with a friend, like going through all this information and piecing it together and wondering just how it went so long without this person being caught.

Michelle McNamara clearly spent years of her life dedicated to this. She had files and boxes that she combed over, she used the internet, connecting with other amateur sleuths online. It’s really actually quite sad to read this and get to the section of the book that mentions that she died and that it was completed from her notes – so much hard work. So much dedication. And yet the arrest came when she wasn’t able to be present for it, to add that final chapter to her work. I don’t often read a lot of true crime. I find it quite depressing to be honest, although my husband enjoys true crime documentaries and I occasionally watch some with him. But this is the kind of true crime that interests me. This methodical, dedicated approach. I was engrossed in this book – I could not put it down. I don’t really believe in the afterlife but I hope that Michelle McNamara, somewhere, knows that the job is done.


Book #117 of 2018


2 responses to “Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

  1. Kazen says:

    Great review – I also read this recently and loved it! McNamara is able to tell the grisly facts while being respectful to the victims and I really appreciate that.

    Maybe it’s because I listened on audio, but I felt that the chapters that were pieced together after her death weren’t at the same level as those written completely by her. It makes perfect sense, of course, and can’t be helped, but I thought it made the whole work uneven. And yes, so much bittersweet here – my heart ached by the time I reached the end.

    • That thing about the audio is really interesting. I didn’t really notice it so much as being not on the same level, but they did have a different tone of course. I admire the fact that they did their best to finish her work but it does seem as though they weren’t as successful as McNamara at conveying that sympathetic but factual tone.

      My heart ached too. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that she didn’t live to see this published and I think even more importantly, to see the arrest. It just felt so…..unfair.

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