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. 


  1. I used to devour true crime and liked this book a lot but didn't love it the way most people did. I thought the parts McNamara wrote herself were terrific but the other parts took away from it.

  2. I am not usually reaching for these kinds of books but I remember it getting a lot of press and hearing that it was pretty good. Maybe someday I'll get to it. My husband does not read. It kills me but I think he would like this book.

  3. @bermudaonion - Kathy, I know what you mean! I do think the parts McNamara wrote were the prime parts of it, and it missed the same feeling and edge that her part really incorporated - her doggedness, her honesty in her life, and more. The rest tried to pick up the slack through editor's notes, snippets of articles and the two men who researched with her. It's a hard task to write like her, no doubt!

    @Ti - This would be the book I'd recommend to the one who doesn't like to read. It falls into my whole "if you'd like listening to audiobooks, try a podcast." Podcasts are short, easy to follow (depending on the storyteller or case), and this story ranks right up with them all. I hope you can convince him to read this one!

  4. This book was so good and so terrifying! I had to quit reading it at night. It was just too chilling.

  5. @Jennifer | Book Den - Ooh, pick it back up again! Especially now that the guy is captured, it brings an entirely new element to the work that was done - you won't be disappointed!