I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Why I Decided To Read It: I don’t talk about it often, but I am interested in true crime. Like many people, it’s hard to articulate why I am fascinated by it, but I am. Maybe I’m curious on how messed up people can become; I don’t know.
This book has been the talk of true crime junkies since it came out- and well before then because of Michelle McNamara’s quality of work and her death (She died in 2016 from an undiagnosed heart condition). I have not previously read any of Michelle McNamara’s work, but podcasts I listen to had suggested it. I am glad I did.
Summary: For over 10 years, California state was subjected to one of the worst attacks in history. In the mid-to-late 1970s, The East Area Rapist terrorized the Sacramento area through a series of almost 50 burglaries and rapes. Then in the early-to-mid 1980s, The Original Night Stalker murdered at least 10 people. It wasn’t until DNA testing became available that these two cases were officially discovered by the work of the same individual, now dubbed The Golden State Killer. He has never been caught. In this book, Michelle McNamara examines the facts of this case, interviews law enforcement and armchair detectives working on the case, and works herself to try to find who was responsible for one of the worst attacks in California history.
Thoughts and Analysis: First of all, I’d like to acknowledge I listened to the audiobook version because I tend to prefer to listen to nonfiction books. Gabra Zackman did a great job. However, I wouldn’t encourage you to listen to it late at night because if you’re anything like me, you will get paranoid.
This story is terrifying. One of my worst fears is someone breaking into my home and then attacking my family. The crimes covered in this book is all that. One of the most terrifying pieces is this book is the Golden State Killer is still out there. As of this writing, we still don’t know who he is. They have his DNA though. This case is frustrating because of this. It’s so close to being solved; one tip could blow it all open.
An interesting part of this book- which is different from a lot of nonfiction true crime books except arguably Anne Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me– is Michelle McNamara acknowledges her obsession with this case. A lot times crime writers either attempt to not discuss their personal journey during research or they clearly show their obsession without realizing it. Michelle McNamara openly discusses constantly checking for news while at Hollywood parties with her husband, Patton Oswalt. Or how she finds herself in a rabbit hole of research all night. Or how she contacts detectives and fellow at-home sleuths (one of whom is her researcher for this book).
There is a lot of research in this book. Of course, one should expect a lot of information to wade through in a case with around 50 known rapes and at least 10 murders. McNamara is extremely thorough, even if she doesn’t cover every event. Her friend and researcher mention in the third part that after she passed, they went through all of her computer files and papers for this book and there were thousands of things for them to go through. It makes me wonder what would happen if she hadn’t died early. Would this case be closer to being solved?
Favorite Character: As this is a nonfiction book, there are no “characters” per se. I just want to use this opportunity to reiterate how much of a gift Michelle McNamara had. She writes so beautifully and honestly in a way I can’t describe. She also comes across as a deeply caring, kind, dedicated person. I could tell how much this case meant to her as well as how much it bothered her. She carries so much sympathy and empathy for the victims and the detectives. She’s also brilliant. When her friend and researcher discuss finding all the files she had that they had to piece together to finish the book, you see someone who is a natural detective dedicated to this case, even if she isn’t a member of a police force (although many detectives she interviewed and worked with consider her an honorary detective).
Should You Read This?: Absolutely, unless true crime really freaks you out. This book gets dark.
Final Thoughts: It’s a terrifying, fascinating book that is worth the read.