Author: Michelle McNamara
Published: February 27, 2018
Where I picked up my book: Talking Leaves in Buffalo, NY
Key Words: true crime, serial killer, mystery
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (via Goodreads):
A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized 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 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.
At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.
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.
A: I purposely bought this book on a trip so that I could read it on the plane where there was no chance of a serial killer breaking into the window and killing me, and yet…I was still terrified. I actually had a moment where I looked around to make eye contact with the people around me to see how psychotic they looked and if there was a chance they could be a killer. (I’m pretty sure the only psychotic looking one at this point was me). And don’t even get me started on what I was thinking during our layover. B: This is the most terrifying book I have ever read and I don’t know a damn soul who could read it at night. C: The killer was caught shortly after the book was published and that has made some people feel at ease. Umm…there are other people out there capable of this sort of thing (hopefully not many, but still). I’m so so glad he has been caught, but it has not lessened my fear factor one iota. Moving on…
First, I was enamored with McNamara’s style of writing while reading this book. It felt like a friend was allowing me into her world. It is above and beyond any non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I should probably preface this by saying that I’ve never read a true crime novel, but from what I hear, McNamara’s writing far exceeds that genre’s typical writing as well. It’s thorough, intense, well researched, but it wasn’t dry at all and kept me completely enthralled the entire time. We read about each victim and the circumstances surrounding their home and attack, but periodically, Michelle would insert a chapter about her as a researcher and that interested me far more than the killer or the victim’s stories. Or maybe that was my coping mechanism? But either way, I loved to see, from the writers perspective, what was going on while all of this research was happening. She was totally obsessed and absorbed in the research, and that was made clear in these chapters. Side note: I remember writing my final thesis in undergrad and completely fell down a rabbit hole of research and books and magazines and web searches. I was totally engrossed in the topic (transcendentalism for those of you that care about that sort of thing), and I can remember walking to class, or getting a coffee, and just totally obsessing over the subject regardless of what was going on around me. At one point in the book, McNamara mentions completely forgetting her anniversary and I, 100%, can see that happening when you’re so riveted in the research. It becomes you. Now, transcendentalism and Emerson and Thoreau are worthy of a rabbit hole, but I can’t even begin to imagine what a rabbit hole into a free-roaming serial killer and rapist would do to the researcher.
Second, I think she gave honor to each victim in the book. She is truthful, honest and pays homage to each person and their family in a way that I have never quite seen before. It’s a brutal topic, but somehow, Michelle handles it with grace and complete integrity for each of the victims.
Third, how in the HELL did this psychopath evade the cops and authorities for this many years?! Seriously…3 minutes after reading the last sentence, I started researching documentaries and news specials about his capture. Not because I want to hear about the brutality of his actions (at all), but I want to know how in the hell he got away with this and was never caught until now.
This book is chilling, fascinating and terrifying. It will leave you looking over your shoulder, walking a little faster at night (or lets get real, not walking at night for a long while), locking windows, installing motion detector lights in your yard, and double checking doors. You won’t want to put it down, but probably will at night. I am still having trouble wrapping my head around this one, but can rest (maybe just slightly) better knowing that this psychopath has been caught. McNamara’s passion shines through in this book and although it’s tragic that she passed away before he was caught, I can’t help but think her research, vigor, and obsessiveness helped bring this person to justice and give his victims a bit of peace.