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I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

Review

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK is a true crime classic for the 21st century. In a gripping 328 pages, Michelle McNamara chronicles a sprawling list of heinous crimes committed in California during the ’70s and ’80s by the Golden State Killer, a moniker coined by the author. At least 50 rapes and 10 murders have been attributed to this individual, who to this day has never been caught. Aside from trauma, loss and shattered lives, the responsible party left little behind --- nothing more than a few cryptic, tantalizing clues that have stymied investigators and amateur sleuths alike for decades. And despite a rap sheet that rivals some of the United States’ most notorious criminals, the Golden State Killer remains relatively unknown. Until now.

With I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, McNamara has converted years of painstaking research into a compulsively readable account of the people whose lives were transformed by a monster, and the race against time to bring him into the light.

"...a compulsively readable account of the people whose lives were transformed by a monster, and the race against time to bring him into the light."

“His identity matters not a whit to me. I want him captured; I don’t care who he is. Looking at such a man’s face is anticlimactic; attaching a name, even more so. We know what he did; any information beyond that will inevitably feel pedestrian, pale, somehow cliché.” These words belong not to McNamara but to author Gillian Flynn, who has written the  introduction to I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK. What I found so particularly striking about this statement is just how well it sets the tone for the book, encapsulating the pathos McNamara brings to the investigation. This is not to say that she isn’t consumed by the mystery that surrounds the killer’s identity. Quite the contrary: she is so consumed that she confesses her anxiety over her all-encompassing obsession with this case to the reader multiple times, worrying over it to the point that she remarks on how certain aspects of her hunt for the Golden State Killer mirror his inability to control his urges to stalk and terrorize.

The very premise of the book hinges on unmasking the villain. However, the empathy McNamara has for the victims and those who have dedicated their lives to investigating the Golden State Killer weaves a humanizing sensitivity into horror that, in less capable hands, could be easily exploited for shock value. Of course, the focal point of I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK is solving the great whodunit, but the book’s true significance lies in its treatment of the people who find themselves connected to the perpetrator, whether by choice or by circumstance. The end result deglamorizes the myth of the serial killer and helps deliver at least some power into the hands of those who want him to see justice.

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK is very nearly perfect, and if McNamara had lived to complete it, I can only imagine just how incredible it would have been. Sadly, she passed away unexpectedly in 2016, and it was left to her lead researcher and a close colleague to take on the daunting task of finishing her work. Though they do an admirable job overall, it’s hard not to see these posthumous chapters as lacking. I missed McNamara’s effervescent writing style and found the density of some pages difficult to engage with. Still, her collaborators manage to maintain the spirit of her investigation, which happily carried me through the book until its end.

I absolutely loved I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK. It’s a must-read for any true crime fan. Upon finishing, I only wish that the world could have been fortunate enough to have received more work from this brilliant woman. But perhaps with this book, she has given us one final gift: the chance to one day see the Golden State Killer behind bars.

Reviewed by Alex Bowditch on March 9, 2018

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara

  • Publication Date: February 27, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062319787
  • ISBN-13: 9780062319784