Book Club: I'll Be Gone in the Dark


I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

As a true crime aficionado, I had first head of the Golden State Killer on an episode of the My Favorite Murder podcast. When I heard that the journalist who made this serial killer famous had died, I knew I had to read the book but kept putting it off. I woke up to news one day that the Golden State Killer had been finally found, years after he had stopped killing and I immediately downloaded this book on Audible. I can't believe I didn't do so earlier.

Goodreads Synopsis

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 review

It was a joy to read Michelle McNamara's last work before she died. 

In fact, she didn't finish writing this book before she died - it was finished by her friends and co-researchers who cared about her and her work against the serial murderer and rapist of women. 

I'm a huge fan of true crime and McNamara's work read partly like a reporter's article on a killer - all of the facts laid out for you to have at your disposal. It also read partly like a fellow true-crime nerd - she seems to know herself well and is critical of her own thoughts on each piece of information the police were able to find on the GSK. She writes about the victims in an incredible way that is both compassionate and factual. Her conversations with police detectives are both smart and relatable. She talks about survivors with both admiration and curiosity. Her work is just incredibly impressive. It's just sad that she's not around to appreciate the response to her years of hard work. 

Violent men unknown to me have occupied my mind all my adult life—long before 2007, when I first learned of the offender I would eventually dub the Golden State Killer. The part of the brain reserved for sports statistics or dessert recipes or Shakespeare quotes is, for me, a gallery of harrowing aftermaths: a boy’s BMX bike, its wheels still spinning, abandoned in a ditch along a country road; a tuft of microscopic green fibers collected from the small of a dead girl’s back. To say I’d like to stop dwelling is beside the point.

McNamara's obsession with true crime began when she was 14 years old. A jogger was killed in her neighborhood, but although a few teenage boys in the area may have potentially seen the murderer, the case was never solved. This sparked a fascination with true crime and a career was born. McNamara was a blogger as well at (which strikes a chord with me, of course) as well as a crime reporter. She talked about various other crimes in her blog but she was really obsessed with the GSK and in her book, she laid out all the grisly details. I believe there were about 50 cases of the GSK's attacks that she lays out in her book but they are all written in bite-sized chunks. She does not glorify the attacks but spares no details. She's a great writer. 

I recommend this book to those interested in true crime like myself. I would also recommend that if you do read or listen to it, don't do it at night (like I did).