Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

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

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My most recent trip to the library left me with three non-fiction texts to work through. This book was high on my list, but its popularity meant that it was constantly checked out whenever I found myself in the library.

This book is an anomaly because there are really two books here – the physical book which chronicles McNamara’s obsession with The Golden State Killer (a moniker which she coined) and the ethereal subtext of the other book – the story of McNamara’s life and tragic death, with the final act of the arrest of the Golden State Killer shortly after the publication of this book.

Though most people are not quick to admit it, the majority of us have a fascination with the macabre tales of serial killers – it may be we are drawn to the same magnetism that allows many murderers to pass undetected, or it could be that we feel a symphonic tie to the victims – people like us who were just trying to live their lives. McNamara falls staunchly in the latter category, not only out of personal morality, but also necessity, since she could only ruminate on the possibilities of the killer’s background.

I am more in the middle. I find these stories interesting, but do not obsess. I have more than a passing knowledge on serial killers and cults, but knew little to nothing about the Golden State Killer. As a teen, the murderers captured my attention, but as I grew physically and psychologically, I found that my attention turned more to the victims. Sharon Tate deserved more of my time than Manson.
McNamara shows us of the lives of people and families torn apart over the course of decades. Communities terrorized with the idea that they could be next – near misses and “almost hads” that drive investigators insane. Her attention to detail and research skills make this a great work of reporting; her facility with language makes this a masterpiece of nonfiction.

But the book doesn’t end when you close the book. McNamara’s fate is told here – we know where she stopped in her research, we get glimpses into her life as a researcher, a wife, and a mother – but the untold story of what happens after publication offers a simultaneously devastating twist and satisfying tying of loose ends.

The book ends with McNamara’s co-conspirators discussing her insistence that online DNA databases were the key to catching the killer. She was right, of course – we as readers know that – yet (in this first edition, anyway – I’m sure an updated edition will follow) McNamara did this work knowing that it was likely she would never find the killer. And she didn’t in her lifetime. But it is impossible to read or discuss this work without the addendum that this work did ultimately help uncover the identity of the Golden State Killer – a life’s work the achieved its goal, though the achievement will never be celebrated by the person who achieved it. McNamara herself becomes another factor in her story – we celebrate with her husband who tweeted “I think you got him, Michelle” on the day the man accused was arrested, and we mourn her death when we realize she will never hear it from him.

This book is more than the sum of its parts – and that is what makes it.

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