Tuesday, May 8, 2018


I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara (Faber & Faber, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

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 TrueCrimeDiary.com, 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.

My path from learning about this recent release to reading it was a rather unusual one. Almost a year ago, I watched an episode of comedy sitcom The Goldbergs, which had one of those 'in memorium' notes at the end about McNamara. Not recognising her from in front of the camera during the series, I went online to learn more (thinking she might be a writer/director/crew etc). It turned out she was the wife of the narrator, Patton Oswalt, and a true crime writer who died young.

Intrigued, I dug deeper, and lots of articles popped up about McNamara's pursuit of the 'Golden State Killer', as she'd dubbed the man responsible for at least two cold case crime waves (the Original Night Stalker murders, and the East Area Rapist spree). She was working on this excellent book when she died, and it has been finished by some researchers she worked with (from her drafts and notes and features she'd written etc). Simply put, it's a quite outstanding piece of true crime writing.

In a way, I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK is a story that's as much about it's author, and her obsessive chase of a killer who'd eluded captured for almost forty years, as the perpetrator himself. McNamara is drawn in to the unknowns and scattered puzzle pieces that he trailed behind him, and goes right down the rabbit-hole. She's self-aware enough to realise how obsessed she's become, and shares that with the readers in a candid way, talking about how she squirreled herself away from her family in order to spend untold hours pouring over her laptop, talking to other true crime obsessives, chasing down any potential lead, no matter how remote or loosely related.

The result is an outstanding piece of reportage that is powered by prose that sings. This is not just an accumulation of facts from police reports, newspapers, and interviews. McNamara brings the world of 1970s-1980s California to vivid life, the people and communities who were terrorised by serial rapes and vicious killings. The surviving victims, the families of those who didn't. The investigators who failed over and over again, despite their best efforts, to capture a man who brutalised so many.

This is a brilliant, must-read book for any true crime fan, and I'd also highly recommend it to crime-lovers who usually prefer fiction to fact. It's an extremely well-told story that just happens to be horribly, awfully true. It deserves to be widely read regardless, but of course recent events - a few weeks after its publication - have brought it back into the spotlight, with reports that the man McNamara dubbed 'the Golden State Killer' has finally been caught thanks to DNA matching.

It's fascinating, if you've read any of those news stories and related features, to compare the truth we so far know about that man (still not convicted, yet, of course) with what McNamara and many others in her book believed about the Golden State Killer. How did he get away with it for so long?

A flat-out five-star read. Highly recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

No comments:

Post a Comment