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Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
Author: Michelle McNamara
Published: 27th of February 2018 – Harper Perennial
Format: Paperback – 368 pages
“I’m envious, for example, of people obsessed with the Civil War, which brims with details but is contained. In my case, the monsters recede but never vanish. They are long dead and being born as I write.” – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Hello Hello! How are you?
I’ve had this post in my Drafts for over a year and I finally found time to edit and publish it! I read this book last year and absolutely adored it, even though I had to put it down lots of times because of how vivid and hard it was to read. It has stayed with me ever since and I’m currently in a nonfiction mood so will have to pick up something new soon.
Disclaimer: I want to add this note before the review because I think it is important to understand that I find it so hard to rate nonfiction because it seems weird rating a person’s life or something so terrible as the crimes committed by the Golden State Killer. I gave this book 5 stars because it had such a massive impact on me and despite how horrendous some parts are, the author has done such amazing research and written a truly amazing book, in spite of its subject.
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.” McNamara 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.
Trigger warnings: death, violence, murder, stabbing/bludgeoning, rape, victim recollections of attacks (vivid and hard to read), robbery, witness statements, police statements, serial killer, serial rapist, very detailed descriptions of crimes.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara is a nonfiction true crime book about the Golden State Killer, who committed 120 burglaries, 50 rapes and 13 murders between 1973 and 1986 in California. In this book, the author weaves facts about the crimes, evidence, and assumptions about the perpetrator, but also her own thoughts, victim statements, police interviews and her search for the name behind the Golden State Killer nickname.
I have always been a little bit obsessed with true crime. I have always loved watching all the crime shows and documentaries. So when I started looking into true crime books and found this one, I knew I needed to read it. I’m so glad it was gifted to me last Christmas and I’m so glad I decided to pick it up sooner than I had planned thanks to Helen from In Pages I’m Lost who mentioned how much she was enjoying it.
It’s really hard to rate and review nonfiction books in my opinion, so I’m just going to give my overall thoughts. As soon as I started it, I could tell I was going to love it. Michelle McNamara has a very easy-to-read writing style that makes her nonfiction book flow as easily as fiction. I was gripped from the moment I started this book and I think I could have read it in only a few days had I not been so busy. However, I do have to mention that I had to stop every so often and take a break because some things that are explained are done in such a detailed way, and it’s really hard-hitting stuff.
I found the whole book to be incredibly interesting. I knew a little bit about the Golden State Killer, and how prolific he was back in the 70s and 80s in America, but I had no idea of the extent of his crimes and what they were exactly. This book chucks you in at the deep end and you immediately get told about rapes, murders, and robberies.
There is obviously some part of fiction, or a fictionalised writing style that comes into play in the book because apart from witness, victim and police statements, no one can really know what happened exactly (apart from victims still alive/who survived the attacks) and the criminal himself. Even though some things that Michelle posits about the GSK’s thoughts, movements and motives, there is so much evidence and fact. It sounds a bit morbid to say I enjoyed reading about all the facts, but this is coming from someone who wanted to be a forensic investigator, pathologist or detective (I still do but I’m too rubbish at maths).
As I said, the author infuses some fictive prose to her facts but also weaves in things she remembers about growing up, her family, her mother especially, meeting with people who were also amateur sleuths and trying to unmask the GSK. It all blended perfectly in my opinion and I just constantly felt “Wow, this is amazing”. Some things that happen and are detailed are honestly spine-chilling. I can’t even begin to explain the atrocities this man committed, but if you are okay with the TWs I mentioned above and like true crime, definitely go read this book, it is fantastic.
It was also heart-breaking learning about all the victims, their families and their lives and in a way reliving the crimes while the author was describing what happened, when, how, to whom, etc. I was also deeply saddened by the fact that Michelle McNamara died in her sleep in 2016, and never found out who the Golden State Killer was or got to see him brought to justice. However, Paul Haynes, Billy Jenson and Patton Oswalt (her husband) helped finish writing the book from her notes and over 3,500 files on her hard drive. At the end of the book, they included a letter that Michelle wrote to the GSK, and it gave me chills, it was just so powerful.
“I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.” – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
As you can tell from my rambling, I absolutely adored this book. I knew I would when I found it online and when I got it for Christmas, and then when I started it, I knew it would be my latest 5-star read of the year. This book was chilling, full of facts and evidence, beautifully written, powerful and immersive.
I also really liked how it was set up. Every chapter was a place and date where a crime was committed. Along with the descriptions of crimes and Michelle’s thoughts, there were snippets of interviews, composite sketches, geo-profiling maps (this was so interesting to the nerd in me), information about DNA (also highly intriguing to the nerd in me). I particularly liked how the author linked time periods and places to historical events, or when she explained how DNA was discovered.
I gave this book 5 stars and I absolutely adored it. I think that I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was extremely well set up, plotted, thought out and executed. It had me gripped from the minute I started it and I still can’t stop thinking about it now, over a year after reading it. At the end of the book, Patton explains that the police deny that the book helped bring the GSK to justice, but I think Michelle and her book did have their part to play, and if nothing else, it has brought to light the horror of the crimes and gave the case the publicity it needed to put the perpetrator behind bars. Finally, it also gave a voice to the victims of the GSK, which is very important.
If you like true crime, learning about police investigations including DNA and geo-profiling, nonfiction, beautiful and hard-hitting prose, and you are not triggered by the TWs I mentioned above, then I highly, 100%, absolutely, definitely recommend this book. It was fantastic!
“This is how it ends for you. “You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,” you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.” – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post.
See you soon, stay safe,