I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer – Michelle McNamara

Published October 16, 2018 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised 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 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.

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.

What did I think?:

If you’re a regular follower of what’s new and what’s hot in the literary world, I don’t think you can have failed to see how much of an effect the true crime book, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has had on its readers. As with every hyped book, of course I approached it with some trepidation which was also coupled with some unease and a lack of familiarity with the genre in general. My other half, Mr B is quite taken with some true crime podcasts but to be honest, I haven’t really gelled with anything I’ve listened to yet. The worry then was that I’ll Be Gone In The Dark would be a similar experience and I SO wanted to love it, after hearing the highest praise about it from fellow bloggers. Now personally, (please don’t hate me!) this book wasn’t quite the five star read I was anticipating and that was a shame – I had definitely elevated it to astronomical proportions in my mind and sadly, it just didn’t reach those dizzying heights. HOWEVER, there are parts of this book that are utterly fantastic and that I thoroughly enjoyed and I would still recommend this as a must-read book if you’re at all interested in this infamous case or the genre in general.

The late author Michelle McNamara and her husband, Patton Oswalt.

This is the true story of The Golden State Killer and his reign of terror over about a twelve year period that led to thirteen murders, more than fifty rapes and over one hundred burglaries in the state of California. The most fascinating thing about this particular case is how often this one man managed to evade police, leaving very little evidence that would ensure his capture and the way in which he terrified his victims. In the early years of his brutal activities, DNA testing was very much in its infancy and detectives had to rely heavily on anything left at the scene and eyewitness statements. However, our perp was incredibly adept at slipping under the radar and even as his crimes began to escalate, he still managed to escape the authorities and leave them frustrated, confused and eventually despondent. McNamara herself becomes engrossed with the case and spent countless hours often working long into the night, trying to piece together small scraps of evidence, communications between the police and eyewitnesses that may lead to the incarceration of such a sadistic and deplorable criminal.

One of three primary composite sketches of The Golden State Killer.

By FBI – https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/unknown-suspect-21, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60645485

Part of what makes this intriguing work so poignant is that Michelle McNamara sadly died quite suddenly as she was in the middle of writing this book. It has been pieced together by crime writer Paul Haynes, investigative journalist Billy Jensen and her widower Patton Oswalt who obviously had access to the files and notes she was working on. In a strange way, this was one of the things I appreciated about this book and in another way, that’s why I haven’t rated it any higher. Let me try and explain. It was fascinating to read about Michelle’s research, part of it in her own words and part of it in other words and I adored her gutsy determination, passion for justice and effort that she put into the whole project. Nevertheless, I feel like that is one of the problems with I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. At points, it really doesn’t read very well, as if it has been pieced together by too many people (which it has!) and unfortunately, this led to a rather disjointed, haphazard and uneven kind of reading experience as I made my way through it.

I don’t think it helped that I read this book over a period of about a month in little portions at a time. I often found I lost track of the narrative and there were so many facts and figures it made it slightly overwhelming to absorb occasionally. Possibly it may have been better if I had concentrated fully on this book and nothing else until I had finished it? Perhaps, I’m not sure. Saying that, there are some truly wonderful things about this read that make it memorable and still stand out in my mind. I won’t give too much away but there are moments when the author describes our killer’s usual protocol as he enters a house and the terrors that he subjects his victims to whilst he is in there. During these parts of the narrative, it read almost like a suspense or crime novel and I was on the edge of my seat, it was utterly horrifying. I kept reading parts out to Mr B – “did you realise he did this?,” and “how can one man be so sadistic?!” I’m sure he was getting fed up with me by the end!

So to sum up, this is an incredibly gripping read that I believe fans of true crime would really devour. If you’re like me and not a usual true crime reader, perhaps go into it with realistic expectations but I’m sure you’ll find it to be a dramatic and haunting experience. I certainly know there’s passages of this that I’ll never, ever forget!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


36 comments on “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer – Michelle McNamara

    • I’m so relieved you felt the same way Jonetta! 😅 I was worried that people might think I was “bashing” this when it truly is an intriguing book! I just have to be honest with my thoughts. 😌

    • I’m so glad you loved it Tina, there really is so much to love! I think if I had solely focused on this book and not read other things at the same time I might have connected with it a bit more. Still a solid four star though! 😁

  • Great review, Beth! I started this one with the group and I got lost in the middle and I didn’t finish it. I keep saying to myself I will get back to it but I haven’t.

      • Do you mean specifically true crime or general nonfiction? For true crime I’m not sure to be honest, I think this was my first one ever so I’m open to the idea of trying anything! 😁 Generally for nonfiction I love popular science, (especially forensics, neuroscience and medical nonfiction) nature and psychology, 😊

      • Your first true crime – we’re definitely reading a true crime book together, stories of wrongful conviction are my favourite sub-genre because I like seeing all that goes into freeing the wrongful convicted, it’s always so emotionally charged because the people are sometimes on death row for a crime they didn’t even commit!!!

        Medical nonfiction is new territory for me, but I find it fascinating, the body and minds ability and will to survive!

        I’ve just thought of the perfect nonfiction for us to buddy read – all will be revealed in good time….

      • Ooh yes, I’m definitely interested in wrongful convictions, I’m sure that would be so powerful, especially if they’re on Death Row. 😱 I’m so intrigued over what you want to pick….what a tease you are! 😉😜

  • I’m so desperate to read this one, very much appreciate your honest review (it’s tempered my high, high expectations a little!). I’d heard about it earlier in the year and flagged it for a future reading list, but I’ve become even more interested and more keen to read it since I started bingeing the My Favorite Murder podcast (I’m guessing if Mr B is really into true crime podcasts he’s got you to give that one a try already, but if he hasn’t it might be worth a go! I’m completely obsessed.) I really miss reading true crime, really, it’s one of my favourite genres. ❤

    • Sheree I think you should definitely, DEFINITELY read this one then! Parts of it are so eerie and haunting it will stay with you for a long time *shiver* 😱 Haha yes that is one of Mr B’s favourites! He thinks the women are really funny. I tried it and could see that for sure but some of the noises they made started to annoy me and I couldn’t continue! 😂😅🙊 I think if I could get past that I know I would love it too, what is wrong with me?!

      • Hahahaha I can only imagine it would be a NIGHTMARE for people with some noise sensitivities, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you at all 😉 different strokes and all that! I find it oddly soothing, I can’t even put my finger on why, I’ve listened to nothing else for weeks now (so there’s probably something wrong with *me*, if anything – who finds listening to stories about serial killers RELAXING? hahahaha). Will let you know what I think of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark when I get to it x

  • How did I miss your review of this?! Wonderful write-up, this was such a disturbing story to begin with and the way she told it made it even more chilling. I do think it’s one that’s better to read through more quickly as opposed to reading it bits or getting through it slowly. Glad to hear your thoughts on it!

    • ☺️☺️☺️ that’s so kind thank you. She DOES make it so eerie doesn’t she? I wish now I had devoted more time to it rather than reading a chapter at a time amidst other books. 🤔

      • This case is such a chilling one all around. I was getting paranoid reading it and I live in an apartment…so I can understand not wanting to read it all straight through at once! But I think because of her having passed away and it being pieced together somewhat unusually because of that, and having some bits that feel more unfinished, it does seem a bit jumbled here and there and I can imagine that detracted from the reading. There are lots of documentaries on it but it’s an especially scary story to watch/read too much of, I think 😳

      • The show People Magazine Investigates did a 2-part one that was good, and there have been a few since he’s been caught, I think from Oxygen? So creepy and chilling but completely intriguing!

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