Finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I received a copy from the publisher for review.
Summary (from 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.”
I’ve always said that the best journalism (whether print or on the air) is the one where the reporter is almost invisible, where the story at hand gets the entire focus. I still believe that’s true, but I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a notable exception. Michelle McNamara is all over this book, and the sections where we see her life and personality are my absolute favorites.
And on a related note, I think most readers would admit that when they read truly excellent books, they feel like they almost become friends with the characters. That happened to me in this case, only I felt like I had known Michelle for years and that we were great friends. I’m very sad that I’ll never get to meet her (she died in 2016).
She became obsessed with the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer (possibly more commonly known as the Original Night Stalker). He’s never been caught and no one even has any idea who he is. It’s not one of those cases where people are pretty sure it’s one of two or three people, only the evidence isn’t quite there to convict. There’s DNA evidence and it has exonerated most of the people where it’s like, “OMG I bet it’s [suspect name here].”
It reached the point where she remarked that she feels like there’s “a scream permanently lodged in my throat.” That’s accurate. Over the few days i spent reading this book, I felt incredibly freaked out. Noises outside made me jump. Normal noises inside made me jump. My skin actually crawled at one point (it’s a really unpleasant sensation; I do not recommend it).
Part of it is the writing style. It describes everything but holds back the worst parts…until it doesn’t. Every so often, there will be a sentence or paragraph that seems to punch you directly in the face, usually literally a breathtaking sentence. And then the narrative goes on.
This is an intense book, obviously, but it’s also a great one. Highly recommended.