12 December 2018

I'll be Gone in the Dark, by Michelle McNamara

If you’re a true crime fan, stop reading this and just pick up I'll be Gone in the Dark. Now.

Even if you have zero interest in true crime, I urge you to read this. Read the enthralling words Michelle McNamara so easily placed on a page, that made it so easy to read and to become invested in. Her honesty in her writing will suck you in and I have no doubt you will finish this book quickly. And I hope it will remind you of one thing, so very important in today's new world. We have to be vigilant, to watch over one other. Don't cast away something that might be a key tip in a case. It might be nothing, or it could be the tipping point. McNamara's quest to solve this case makes me sit in awe and wonder of her dedication and reminded me that whether we like it or not, we are all responsible for each other.

With the increased popularity in true crime podcasts, or documentaries such as "Making a Murderer" and blogs like McNamara's own True Crime Diary bringing cold cases to light, it is absolutely pivotal that we each take an active role in our communities. It is our responsibility to pay attention, to be aware. Make the phone calls to police if we have seen anything. Don't let our insight or an icky feeling we have about something we've seen sit idle. It is our job as caring people and good citizens, partners in this world against evil, to tell that "thing" to someone, whatever it might be, to relay what we know to the authorities and then stay on top of it. Be active. Fight crime, no matter how small you think it might be. We no longer live in a time where we can brush it off and say something ridiculous like, "I don't want to get involved."

McNamara coined the name the Golden State Killer in 2011 and her book, published posthumously, was partially finished when she tragically passed at the young age of 46 just a couple of years ago. She died in her sleep, a combination of regular medicine to help her get some rest after night after night of insomnia as she managed victim's phone calls, pursued clues, got close to writing deadlines, and she took what seems to me a regular amount of medication to finally get the rest she needed. But with an undiagnosed condition of artery blockage, the medical combination resulted in her to not survive that much needed rest she needed. I remember the news and I was stunned. It seemed an innocent combination, and that doggone undiagnosed medical condition messed everything up. It made me ponder at what might have been.

Gillian Flynn, author of one of my favorite books Sharp Objects, (side note: I pretty much skipped as many networking business meetings in Las Vegas years ago as I could so I could contentedly sit in my hotel room by my window and occasionally stare at the gorgeous mountains while reading a book that was so intensely dark and amazing). Flynn wrote the introduction and covers her admiration for, and friendship with, the gutsy and dogged author. I'll be Gone in the Dark is so incredibly well-written, I finished it on, coincidentally, my recent vacation to Vegas last week. (Another side note: apparently my new tradition is to read dark tales while visiting Sin City).

The blogging community was small when McNamara first started, and I wish I had learned about her at the start. This is the type of work, the pursuit and obsession I envy and would have likely devoted time to as well, had I been structured and focused. I probably would have emailed her to ask how I could help. I could have created spreadsheets for her and basically even just gotten her a virtual cup of coffee if she needed it. I wish I knew her back when I blogged consistently, this woman who was basically a detective/investigative journalist in her obsessive and incredible search for the truth of the Golden State Killer.

I have an idea, but I would love to know what her reaction would have been to know that the man who attacked one right after another, sometimes in the same neighborhood or close proximity to another victim (even two who were in the same carpool) during his terror in the 1970s was FINALLY arrested this year. The same man who in 2001, at the age of 55, called a victim who he hadn't spoken to in 3 decades and re-victimized her all over again by whispering in clenched teeth over the phone to her about her fateful night with him decades before. I imagine McNamara would have been working on adrenaline, fear on making sure this was definitely the right man, but also a slight amount of guarded excitement. The man was unmasked. He had "walked into the light," as the letter at the end of her book had persuaded. She wanted this answer, needed this name. She deserved it, along with the investigators and others who searched so diligently.

Michelle McNamara was a true crime fighter. She embodied it, invested her life in it, obsessively investigated just as any police detective on a case still does, years after it's gone cold, a case that haunts their days and nights. It mattered to her, the victims and the families, and it especially mattered to her that the East Area Rapist/the Original Night Stalker was found. This guy was as prolific and as predatory and as scary throughout the state as one can imagine and he brutally terrorized his victims. Had she not passed at 46 a couple of years ago, I have no doubt she would have been the one to find him, or at least be an active partner with the detectives, sitting in the car with them and jotting notes down, her adrenaline pumping during their surveillance, and who eventually arrested him in April of this year. She worked so closely with those investigators, and her incredible research team of Billy Jensen and Paul Haynes who finished her book and did one hell of a fine job with it. When the detectives knocked on Joseph James Deangelo's door to take him away, I can imagine the words she would have crafted to power through her tears of angry and fulfilled satisfaction. I don't know if she would have felt done with it all, but she would have been able to begin mapping out this man's life with the dates she catalogued and her theories and other's' speculations to see what they were right or wrong about, to learn about each part would catapult their new knowledge and expertise for the next case. This new knowledge would be powerfully executed in their next investigations. It would have been an empire of closures sought, vengeances wrought, and criminals found and convicted. I just know it.

This story is phenomenally told, extremely well-written, and the image of her dedicating the past six years of her life to this case, to solving it and bringing closure to this group of people who experienced such terror, is so incredibly honorable, I can only sit at my own laptop and wish I could be a little bit like her. She mastered the art of "laptop sleuthing" a cold case and managing the "intersection of modern day technology." She would search the Internet for hours on end to find stolen items that might be a victim's taken during one of these crimes from decades ago, or she would diligently go through thousands of names and eliminate each name one-by-one. This multi-faceted devotion to solve the case paints the strong picture of how much she cared, REALLY cared.

There's no other way to describe her, in my opinion. She's a hero. She's an honest-to-God downright American hero. My description of her might make her laugh, or shrug it off, or think I've gone bonkers, but hey, I've had this teeny blog of mine for almost 10 years and all I do is write reviews. I write whether I liked or didn't like a book. I went through Stage 3 cancer, chemo and radiation, and even though it's all in my rear view mirror, I look at my blog and think, "what now?" What can I do to make a difference? I never used my blog for the pursuit of knowledge and justice. She did. I cannot stop thinking about all the work she did. I'm not speechless, I'm instead filled with accolades and downright respect to her because she turned her work, her captivating writing into something that really mattered, something that helped others. She worked side-by-side with detectives, became friends with them and the surviving victims and their families and really, it seemed she was the conduit between investigators and victims and all of us. Her place in this world was set, and now there is a void, a significant one. Her writing is penetrating, starkly relatable and her passion is powerful.

Always fascinated by true crime and especially unsolved murders ever since a neighbor was brutally killed and the killer was never found, she skillfully used today’s online world to kick some serious laptop sleuthing to uncover clues and ask the question over and over again, “who did it?” Who was this man? Joseph James Deangelo. He's 72. He sits in jail and I don't believe he's entered a plea yet. He can't use old age to try to minimize his sentence. He needs to plead guilty to everything, and he needs to provide an allocution, an explanation why for each and every horrible act he committed. Victims need to know this, criminologists need this to confirm their theories. We need to know. We need to learn so we can be better at figuring the next one out sooner. We need to be passionate, to take McNamara's vigor and find our own passion and ultimately help each other.  That's what we all can do now. 

Final side note because someone will ask: Michele McNamara was married to Patton Oswalt, Hollywood comedian, actor, and father of their young daughter. He's so funny and the bottom line is he was in love with his pretty bad ass wife.

About the Author
Just check out her site True Crime DiaryGet her book here or listen to the audiobook hereShe's incredible. 

29 November 2018

An Update on Life in Puerto Rico - a journal entry

I love it here.

Do people move at their own pace? Yes. Can it get frustrating when there's maybe a better way, a more efficient way, of doing something? Yes. (I'm recalling the vet clinic or dropping the Toyota off for servicing, that didn't have appointments, so you just wait all day until it's your turn... so yes, that was frustrating. I did roll my eyes all the time, which I'm now embarrassed about). It isn't called "island time" for nothing (and hey, there are a ton of things back in the States that I would shake my head at and think it could have been done better). But who says my way is the right way anyway, you know what I mean? Are people really nice here? Yes. Are they understanding when you try to speak Spanish and you can't and they do their very best to trip over their own English and go out of their way to help you? Yes. I had my own culture shock when first moving here and about a month ago, according to my
journal, that culture shock just stopped. I fell in love with the house even more so, I loved that the weather was cooler and the mosquitoes were on hiatus, and I relished in the slowness of it all. I started recognizing people in town and saying hello and stopping to talk with them. I'm so thankful to my husband, Jason, for providing us with this new chapter in our lives. I love our new home and I love this new change in thinking. I learned you can't live here with a cocky attitude, or frustrated all the time at the differences. You really do have to just shed the old world for how things are here, and just accept that things take longer, or that it's just different than the way you might have done things. It's different. We're not going to change the cultural flow of things here, so it's best to just ride the wave and not fight it. Things are different everywhere in the world. That's why I was so excited to come here, for Dominic to experience this. It's only been 3 months, but we're now finding a rhythm, a routine and now it feels like home. We have our favorite spots, and we know which way to go now without using the GPS (and that is an achievement)!
We love the cat and the cat loves Dominic!
We wanted this new experience in our family's history together. To do something different, to try something new, to experience something that we would remember forever as a family. That's what I remember as a kid growing up with my family in the Philippines or Venezuela or Greece. Sort of throwing away that first-world luxury and expectation and sometimes, arrogance. I'm ashamed by my own attitude when first moving here, how frustrated I would get (in my meager defense, I did have over 70 mosquito bites, after all). In 3 months, I've learned a lot about myself, my own level of patience, my approach to things. It's weird how it just happened, and I hope I stay this way. The things that used to annoy me so quickly are totally fine now. I'm not flaunting my supposed knowledge on how someone can do it better. Who cares? Let it go. And who says I'm right anyway?

Everyone can learn to change, can learn to adjust to new
things. It's not always fancy in the world. And so I absolutely can state that I love it here and am so excited for all the adventures we've already had and the new and fun ones soon to come. We've been through a lot in the past four years, with the cancer I had and the double mastectomy, chemo and radiation that consumed us for two years, and with Jason starting a new job right after that in which the first year he was only home on weekends. We've been through a lot, and we are thankful to God for this opportunity. We love it here. We have a chance to be kinder, to be happier, and to appreciate life.

We are all in.

02 October 2018

Life Right Now... in Puerto Rico

folios and traveler's notebooks by Sojourner USA
There is always a reason for why things happen.

Life is a completely different experience right now. With an incredible opportunity that my husband had, we made the decision to move for the next four years to Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island that is a United States territory and found a beautiful 100-year-old home on the southwest part of the island on a mountain. In the past two months of our new life, we've had several moments of pure glee at our new experience, and then moments where we dearly miss the comforts of the States.

Here's a quick overview of life: I was born in Manila, and lived in Venezuela and Greece. I grew up in Maryland, married once, divorced once, moved from Maryland, to Virginia, to North Carolina, to Minnesota, and then to Virginia Beach where I met the love of my life, married again, got pregnant through IVF treatments, and promptly had a gorgeous fat little boy who saved my life because he never wanted breast milk. Because if he had taken to my breast, it would have been an even longer time before I got that somewhat large lump rechecked. That means the evil breast cancer that had started in my right breast would have spread much more and much further than to 39 out of 53 lymph nodes in my right armpit. My story would have been very different. The Stage 3 breast cancer which required a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation, could have been even worse. So I will always say that my son saved my life. Because he absolutely did.

I've anointed our house as the "Hemingway Hideaway" since it reminds me of Hemingway's Key West home. The gothic beauty of vegetation and island life and palm trees and fruits dropping into our backyard is beautiful and extravagant at times, but there is another reality of living on a mountain without air conditioning on the main floor, without a dishwasher or garbage disposal, with a kitchen door that swings open easily to a gorgeous outdoor patio but also means those bugs and mosquitos and spiders I'm so scared of can also easily come right into where I live, too.

So, yes, that's challenging and different, but so hard to complain about because really - how can you complain when the view is beyond imaginable and God's artistry is so apparent? How can I complain when we have a pool that I can jump into anytime I want? Life here reminds me of all the many things I have always taken for granted living in the States. So this is my reminder. What my soul and spirit needed to become even stronger and thoughtful and aware. These are the things for which I wanted to come here, to raise my son here, for him to build his memory bank with moments of difference and language and beauty. I wanted to harshly remember that life is a luxury no matter where you live, that each breath is precious and that each place in the world can be different, unusual, quirky, delicious, frightening, fun, and always to be respected, even in the midst of homesickness and culture variances that make you doubt every decision made. The reminders that there is more outside of where you live and that one step outside the door each morning should bring you that awareness in some way.

Life in Puerto Rico in this mountain home is fun and crazy and frustrating. I don't know of anyone who really enjoys walking up the stairs and looking out onto the same balcony with the same incredible view that is only just a few feet from your bedroom and noticing that just past that open door, there is a five-foot boa constrictor very comfortably curled up on the corner of the balcony in the sun. That's not really a moment anyone seeks to accomplish, not a task on anyone's list to check off in a day, to try and figure out how to make a snake that big and that scary looking, go far, far away from your home and pets. But even in that, there was value, precious value in that crazy moment. For that moment is now a memory my son has tucked away into his memory bank, that he can draw on in the future to share with his friends and his family about his childhood. Even now, I laugh loudly about how my husband, son and I banded together like The Walking Dead, and with two hockey sticks and a trash can, we snagged and released that big boy back into the jungle in 22 minutes. Later, when the dust of the moment settled, it was an interesting feeling. We just encountered a boa constrictor. On our balcony. Our home. And we worked together. And laughed and high-fived that we accomplished this together and didn't run in fear. This is life now. It seemed familiar, it was our new world now and didn't seem like a big deal anymore.

Life is so sweet and precious. I know I took things for granted before and I will try harder in this life. So I'll take every single snake, mosquito and separation from the things I'm used to because God let me live one more day. Somehow I escaped a ride of cancer and chemo and much, much scarier things from the past four years, which are in my rear view mirror, and I can look at the snake on my balcony and not be all the way scared. I still experience doubt, anxiety, depression and fear in my vulnerable moments, and especially when I have my annual check-ups, but it feels further away from the quaking, dark hole of fear and despair, and closer to God. Closer to faith. It's happening, as I type these very words, that peaceful transformation of contentment flowing over me and I don't want that to end. I know I'll have my moments, the imperfections that make me human. But I believe I can do this. I believe I can choose faith over fear. I will try to practice yoga every morning on that same balcony. I hope for more good days than bad. I pray for those thriving with cancer each day and I will mediate and talk to God. I will be faithful to Him, my life, to my very dreams of creativity that I once tucked away, and I will devote everything to my incredibly strong husband and my life-saving son. I will give them my very all. Because everything was almost all taken away from me much too soon.

21 July 2018

American Fire, by Monica Hesse

My husband and I lived in Virginia Beach for a short time, and we would frequently travel up and down the 23-mile bridge on US 13 to get over to Annapolis, and many a time I made the drive alone for work. I preferred when my husband was driving because I am one of those people who love gazing at passing towns, wondering about the people who live there. And the Eastern Shore of Virginia is beautiful, and seemingly quiet. Unfortunately, we never stopped, even though we planned to. The next time I'm back in Virginia, you can bet I will stop, even if it's just the jam and fruit stand on the side of the road, or to take a picture of an aging motel. I remember one having a funky art deco vibe (I'm still trying to find out if the Whispering Pines Motel was off of US 13 or another road). Either way, if you look up the Virginia map, you'll find a hidden segment of the Commonwealth  of Virginia that is right across a bridge and a part that no one ever thinks of. Most assume it's part of Maryland.

I'm so glad this local library featured this book, all the way down here in Florida. I happened to walk by the shelves while my four-year-old son tore through to the kids' section. I obviously had to check it out because it was about THOSE fires.

I remember when it first started and thought how random they were, how they would sprout up. No one was ever hurt and they were usually old houses or buildings, abandoned for some time. Of course, rumor had it that it was just a bunch of kids, because hey, kids in the middle of nowhere always get blamed for stuff like this. Then, after one fire after another started, the news became real. There was an arsonist in the area. And then, when all the fires fizzled out and the highs and lows of watching the news concluded after about six months, one woman and one man were arrested. A couple, supposedly madly in love, were an arsonist pair. Charlie had previous infractions with the law as a recovering addict, and Tonya really had nothing on her record. They both had their own businesses and were trying to make a life together, but something made them do this. Although Tonya is adamant that she had nothing to do with it, they were both charged, and Tonya was looked as the one with all the ideas. Together, they completely freaked out the area, with everyone wondering which building was next. 

No one ever really understands the amount of man hours and dollars that go into catching a suspect, with trying to profile, stake out, and call on resources from all over the area, from other law enforcement to professors. Monica Hesse, the author, spent this time with each individual reviewing those items, and it's clear she has much respect for the work they did to catch this very oddly-paired Bonnie and Clyde arsonist team that made horrible choices that still have not been understood. Since Charlie was the only who talked to law enforcement and admitted to everything, details are really only from him; Tonya kept herself aloof and closed off, so it was easy to pin her as their ringleader. Charlie wasn't creative enough to come up with good lies, so he just told it as it was, and Tonya, with her way with words, and her quick poetry posts on Facebook, made it crafty and bizarre by staying silent and maintaining her innocence.

I don't read a lot of true crime or non-fiction books and this one was awesome, so I started getting nosey and probably thinking too much. I wonder what would have happened if a woman interrogated Tonya. If a woman who had it all together, and acted like Tonya couldn't possibly have been the one with the ideas, who would give credit to Charlie. Would that have threatened Tonya's ego and would she have confessed? Tonya seemed confident enough to manipulate people, maybe bored with life, or annoyed in her relationship with Charlie that I believe if a woman had questioned her, and gave credit to Charlie, Tonya may very well have gotten angry by a confident female officer and just spilled the truth to gain the credit.

And then, to add more interest, an anonymous book, Burned, by Z. Jasmine BelFord happened to be published on Amazon. It came out while Tonya was out on bail. It was about a couple, not named Tonya and Charlie, but named... Sonya and Harley. It took place in Accolake County, not Accomac County. Yeah... I don't think it's a stretch to assume Tonya wrote it. And then because I'm fascinated by it all, I called the main number for the publishing company and the call center representative said that the author account was in the name of "Mr. Dickerson." Wouldn't you know it, there is a Frank Dickerson in this whole story, and he happened to be Tonya's only character witness during her trial. Interesting, huh?

I bought the book. I'm reading it now. It's got a similar sense of Tonya's poems every few chapters and so far is solely from the perspective of after "Sonya" was arrested.

This was an interesting book and I'm probably more into it because I lived in Virginia Beach when it happened and I remember the news reports. I wish this book included a map with a pin for where all the fires occurred, and I still want to know why Accomac County and Accomack the city are spelled the way they were. Enjoy and read away! It is fascinating.

About the Author (from her website)
Monica Hesse is the national bestselling author of the true crime love story American Fire and the Edgar Award-winning young adult historical mystery novel Girl in the Blue Coat, which has been translated into a dozen languages and was shortlisted for the American Booksellers Association's Indies Choice Award. She is a feature writer for the Washington Post, where she has covered royal weddings, dog shows, political campaigns, Academy Awards ceremonies, White House state dinners, and some events that felt like a mixture of all of the above. She has talked about these stories, and other things, on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CSPAN, FOX and NPR, and she has been a winner of the Society for Feature Journalism's Narrative Storytelling award, and a finalist for a Livingston Award and a James Beard Award. Monica lives in Maryland. with her husband and a brainiac dog.

Visit the Author

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