Sunday, May 27, 2018

[Book Review] I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Book Review of I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara is an incredible book about a chilling case that will have you triple checking your doors and windows at night.

I first heard about the case of the Golden State Killer on the podcast My Favorite Murder. Alex and I listened to that episode while driving up north to spend the long weekend in the mountains. The case made us both incredibly uncomfortable and it really suck with us.

When I first heard about Michelle McNamara's book, I was hesitant to pick it up simply because of how unsettled details about the case left me. However, when I heard the news that the GSK was caught, I went out and picked up the book the next day.

Now that I've finally gotten the chance to read Michelle's book... I'm just blown away.

Let's dive in!

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

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, 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.

My thoughts:
I have to admit that I was a bit worried that this book would be too dry, since it was labeled "True Crime." But oh my goodness... That was not the case at all! In a wonderful section of the book written by Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, they stated the following about Michelle's writing that is absolutely perfect:

Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen on Michelle McNamara's writing style

First of all, I have to say that I absolutely adore Michelle's writing style! She shared the dark details of the case in such an unflinching manner, while also seamlessly adding in bits and pieces about her own life that really took the book to a whole other level. In fact, a big part of this story is about how Michelle obsessed over this case, and she certainly didn't make an attempt to gloss over how much it affected her life. It was so raw, and so unfiltered.

Michelle really had a way with writing these sequences that totally captivated me. More than just a few times, I found myself holding my breath. One perfect example of a scene that had me literally one the edge of my seat and holding my breath as my eyes flew over the pages is below (don't worry, I'll just include a very small part in the midst of a larger story):

The baby-faced man turned slightly, sneakily, and drew a gun from his coat pocket, promptly firing it at McGowen. McGowen fell backward and things suddenly went dark. The bullet had struck the officer's flashlight. 

Every now and again, Michelle would drop in quotes that victims of the crimes reported the GSK saying to them, which petrified me.  The case itself is such a horrifying tale, but I really enjoyed learning more about it in such a well-researched and wonderfully organized way.

Bravo, Michelle!

My favorite passages:
Looking back now, it feels as though I was born into a party that had started to wind down.

I had no particular interest in crime aside from reading the occasional Nancy Drew book growing up. Yet two days after the killing, without telling anyone, I walked to the spot near our house where Kathleen had been attacked. On the ground I saw pieces of her shattered Walkman. I picked them up. I felt no fear, just an electric curiosity, a current of such unexpected, searching force that I can recall every detail about the moment- the smell of newly cut grass, the chipped brown paint on the garage door. What gripped me was the specter of that question mark where the killer's face should be. The hollow gap of his identity seemed violently powerful to me.

I need to see his face.
He loses his power when we know his face.

The baby-faced man turned slightly, sneakily, and drew a gun from his coat pocket, promptly firing it at McGowen. McGowen fell backward and things suddenly went dark. The bullet had struck the officer's flashlight.

There were often signs of his presence in a neighborhood before he struck, small, disquieting details only understood in retrospect.

It would become like a game of hangman he refused to lose, all the guesses wrong, the stick figure nearly fatally hung; Crompton kept the last move open, staving off defeat by waiting until he, or one of his successors, could reverse the momentum and fill in the blanks. Only then, the final letter correct, would the long, bruising chase in the dark end in the simplest but long-sought-after prize: a man's name.

My final thoughts:
A must-read for any true crime fan. This case will give you the chills and keep you up at night, but you will absolutely love the way that Michelle laid it all out for us. But prepare yourself, this isn't a typical true crime novel; this one will hook you from the start and not let you go.

Thanks for reading!
I've always been so interested in this area, I'm shocked with myself that this was one of the very few I have read. Have you read any true crime novels? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!


  1. I'm fascinated by true crime, but I haven't read much of it either! I want to though. I LOVED this book. I actually read it a bit before they caught the suspect, so it was definitely a creepy feeling wondering who it was...I'm so glad they arrested someone though after all these years.


    1. Woah! I can't imagine reading it before he was caught. I was spooked as it was, even though I knew he had been caught!

  2. I need to track down a copy of this book. I love true crime, and everybody is talking about this one. I feel like I’m missing out. Great review!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. It's SO unsettling but the writing is so wonderful. :-D

  3. I can't wait to pick this one up! I love true crime and, like you, when police announced that they'd arrested the GSK this shot to the top of my TBR. Great review Erica :)

  4. I have been hearing great things about this book! I need to read it!

  5. True crime is a genre I have been hearing more and more about all the time, and I think it's about time I gave it a try. And now I think I know where I will start ;)

  6. Honestly my fear was that it would be dry too. I typically don't read True Crime (I'd prefer to watch the documentaries), but I'm happy to hear that this one was soooo good! Given recent events, I definitely want this!