Goodreads Summary: 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.
Wow. So the summary I grabbed from Goodreads pretty much sums the book up. That said, I’ll still share my thoughts.
As a true crime aficionado (which sounds very strange to anyone who doesn’t read true crime because why would you enjoy reading about people being killed?) I had heard of The Golden State Killer aka The East Area Rapist aka The Original Night Stalker. Not only did this guy have a lot of victims, he also had a lot of aliases. Having lived in southern California for a number of years, the case was often revisited in the local media and newspapers on anniversaries of the attacks and/or deaths and I followed them. I also recently watched Investigation Discovery’s “documentary” on the rapist-murderer and then Googled for more info. Leading me to Ms. McNamara’s book, which I reserved at my local library as requester number 37. No joke.
A week or so ago, my number finally came up and I was able to pick up my copy. As luck would have it, a suspect was arrested in connection with the case days after. So while reading, I was somewhat anxiously looking to see if the suspect’s name was mentioned.
So, let’s get to my thoughts on the book.
Unlike some, or most, true crime books, this one does not progress in a chronological order. For instance, it starts with a 1981 murder rather than the actual start of the crime spree in the 1970s. The book continues to jump around, from the 1970s and 1980s to present day, throughout the book. If you prefer things orderly, this may upset you. If you don’t have an issue with the order of things, it may still be confusing. (Raising my hand here.)
This is obviously not a spoiler since it happened in 2016, but Ms. McNamara died before she finished the book. At times, the writing seemed disjointed and I attribute that to her early death. Some of the chapters do end or begin with notations that the verbage was taken from her notes, which were more of a draft, and it does read that way in part.
This also shouldn’t be a spoiler, given the book’s publication date compared with the suspect arrest, but there is no true ending. The case was still officially unsolved at publication meaning a somewhat unsatisfactory ending. For some readers, that’s a no-go.
My biggest issue with I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is that it fizzled for me by the halfway point. The reading just felt laborious and I caught myself alternating between speed reading (to get to “the good stuff”) and my mind wandering.
Not that there was nothing positive about the book. I appreciated that Ms. McNamara excellently explained not only how the perpetrator got away with so many assault for so many years but, as a reader, plopped you down in the Sacramento area circa 1970s. She also shared facts about the cases that had not been previously disclosed, again helping the reader to understand the nature of the time, place and attacks.
One of my greatest pet peeves about true crime writing is the negligence of the author to make the victims into real people rather than just a list of deceased persons. Ms. McNamara does reveal characteristics of the victims, good and bad, showing their humanity. She also writes of the domino effect the rapes and murders have on the survivors – – marriages destroyed and family members left devastated, without justice for their loved ones.
I greatly admire Michelle McNamara. She was a lifelong writer and she also wrote a true crime blog (True Crime Diary), so her passion was real. She was definitely a ride-or-die chick. (Heck, look at the byline of her book: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.) To say she threw herself into this investigation 100% is no understatement. She lived and breathed this case, which couldn’t have been easy. By the way, she is also the person who coined the nickname “Golden State Killer.”
However, while I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has some solid parts and is timely, I was left disappointed. I felt the book had the potential to be smashing, and a wonderful tribute to Ms. McNamara, but it fell short. Perhaps having the book organized into chronological order would have changed my view. I’m conflicted on this one because Ms. McNamara is a good writer and she tackles a fascinating subject but this one just didn’t work for me. The summary above claims the book is destined to become a true crime classic but I must disagree. It simply cannot be put in the same category as Helter Skelter, Fatal Vision or many of Ann Rule’s single-case books. I also don’t feel that In Cold Blood is a classic so maybe I just have no idea.
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is available at major booksellers, on Audible and at your local library.
FTC Disclosure: I obtained this book at my local public library. I was neither paid nor compensated for this review.