Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
My rating: 3/5
Before diving into the synopsis and review, I’d like to give a disclaimer. For our book club I sent the following message prior to meeting up to discuss the nonfiction work: “As a heads up, this book does have sensitive topics and themes. I’m sure we’ll have a good discussion while being aware of potential triggers. Thanks!” I do not plan to describe here in detail the acts of violence, but wanted to give the courtesy in case this topic hits too close to home for any of you.
“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.
Even though I kind of knew what happened in terms of finding the Golden State Killer (or EAR as he was referred to in California), I was still on the edge wondering what led to that point. I have listened to several murder podcasts like Serial and Up & Vanished but I feel that Michelle really dug into this criminal and his string of crimes. The amount of research and time she put into the investigation was incredible. She paints a picture of his patterns, style, and intricacies as much as she is able with the information from the 1970s and 80s. She describes how he learned from mistakes and what made him advance to more intense forms of violence.
I was stunned at first by the comparison of obsession Michelle describes in which hers was similar to that of falling in love or starting a new relationship. That person takes up your mind constantly and you look into any aspect you think will get you to know them better. It is scary to think about that in terms of a serial killer, but I can understand how something like this can consume one’s mind – to seek justice for the victims. The number of those affected is overwhelming and it is challenging for me to digest how he was able to do so without being caught for that long. The strategies he used to instill fear in his victims most likely contributed to his remaining under cover. I appreciated learning about the development of DNA sampling and matching through CODIS, which sounds like slowed his reign of terror and ultimately ended his violent criminal behavior – that along with getting older.
This deep dive into the mind of a criminal was insightful and also put me on edge as well as tossing and turning in the middle of the night – different from a horror film or series like The Haunting of Hill House.
Read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark if you like the themes of:
- Investigative Journalism
What do you think of true crime novels?