Michelle McNamara‘s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer appeared to be a typical true crime work. It was actually quite different. Part of that difference is good and part of the difference is maddeningly bad.

The good: McNamara put together a great tale of the Golden State Killer and did so with solid research. This is one of the most thorough true crime stories I have read (and I have read a ton of them.) To say she did her homework is an understatement – even in a genre known for detailed research.

Another interesting factor behind this book is that the author, McNamara, spent so much time attempting to track down this rapist/murderer. She was not involved in law enforcement, just blogging. Well, that and married to comedian Patton Oswalt – so I guess that afforded her some free time. I also think that is the reason for the book’s success and upcoming HBO series.

The bad: While extremely interesting, it comes across disjointed at times. The style changes throughout as she goes from storytelling to simple back and forth interview transcripts. The most maddening part however is the overuse of phrases like “not her real name” or “pseudonym” to explain that the names of victims are not used for their protection. To say she did it too many times doesn’t come close to explaining how often she did this in the book. It comes up sometimes multiple instances in a single paragraph.

I get it. You didn’t want to use their real names. Why not just say that at the beginning of the book? “Many of the names in this book are pseudonyms to protect the victims.”

I’m guessing it was done because the book is a collection of blog articles from the author’s website. In individual posts, you would put that disclaimer in each time understanding that it may be the only article someone reads on your site. It smacks of lazy editing though to simply cut-and-paste the blog posts into the book without changes.

Okay, minor peccadilloes aside, this is a really good story and worth reading. If there are any issues with this book, they re not with Michelle McNamara, they are with the editors.

arrested 2018

On a side, sad note, Michelle McNamara died in 2016 before the book was published and before the biggest news of this tale. The Golden State Killer who had raped 50+ women and murdered 13 people was found! Joseph James DeAngelo a Navy veteran and former police officer was tied to the crimes thanks to a relative’s submission to GEDmatch – a free version of a DNA analysis service like 23andMe, Ancestry.com etc. He cannot be charged for any of the rapes because of the statute of limitations but is being prosecuted for the murders.

It is sad because she never lived to see her compulsion laid to rest. But, as her editors and husband explain in the book, she didn’t care who caught the guy – just that he was caught. I’m sure she cheered loudly at his arrest.

by Chris Doelle