I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: ONE WOMAN'S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER—Michelle McNamara
For anyone interested in true crime, Michelle's name is one that is sure to strike a chord. Most people have a specific, memorable event that made them interested in true crime (if you're a murderino, you'll be quite familiar with the term "hometown") and there's always that defining moment that you can look back on and say, that was it, for me. I was bit and I never looked back.
True crime is like that. It is kind of all or nothing, not really a dabbling kind of interest. It isn't just that Michelle McNamara had a blog (True Crime Diary), any old fool can do that (myself included), it was the way she devoted everything she had to a case that shockingly continues to go unsolved.
The people who are into true crime know their stuff and usually there is one case that got away. for Michelle, this is that case.
The insidious man dubbed the Golden State Killer by McNamara is not one to go into lightly. It will eat at you, get into your heart, have you keeping the lights on, staying up at night, scouring the internet, and also, on a lighter note, getting to know Michelle, an undeterred and completely unrelenting force of vitality in filling in all the blank spaces of this case.
This isn't just his story—nor should it be. Neither is it a catalog of victims and unspeakable crimes, though McNamara's clear, detailed, and thoroughly human look into many of the attacks is exactly what true crime writers should hope to achieve in such tightrope situations. This is the story of Michelle's search—the people she met along the way, whether it be in case files, in real life, or through chat rooms. The breakthroughs, the near-misses, the pain, the loss, the advances in technology.
This story is a touching tribute to a life devoted to a catching a killer. At the same time it is devastatingly heartbreaking, because Michelle did not get the chance to complete her quest. This book was not finished; the monster has not been found.
Some places in the narrative her absence is cruelly felt and I could sense where there could have been more, there must have been more that she was saving or would have written later. But Michelle never got the chance, having passed away unexpected in her sleep in 2016 at the age of 46.
Despite the evidence left behind at crime scenes, dropped while running away, and found after the fact, despite numerous eyewitness accounts and countless descriptions from victims, the Golden State Killer (aka the Original Night Stalker and/or the East Area Rapist) had never been caught. He is a curl of smoke in the night, sensed with unease, followed in circles, but never conclusively traced—yet.
I can't recommend this book more highly, and it's lessons are twofold. You can follow leads—doggedly—wherever they wind. You can, and should, chase the threads of what you feel in your bones is important to you, especially if it is important not just to you, but to others as well, as Michelle's quest was (and remains to be). But be careful.
And it also offers the idea that our time is now—the time we can work together to actually get things done. Through the internet, through people devoted to maintaining strength and belief even when it seems that all hope is dead and there is nowhere to turn, we can lean on each other—and we should.
Even through the darkness that kept Michelle up at night, there was a mission. We can all carry her mission to expose the truth. Turn on the light and step out of the darkness, out of the fear.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.