Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

This is how it ends for you. “You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,” you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.



Harper | 2018

Filed Under: 12+ murders, 50+ rapes, 120+ burglaries

This is a beautiful work of non-fiction/true crime.

The East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Bay Rapist, the Dollner Street Prowler, the Diamond Knot Killer…

This killer has gone by many names, but the one you’ll be hearing the most is the Golden State Killer. A term coined by the late Michelle McNamara, a true-crime writer/amateur detective, whose life mission was to see this most prolific villain unmasked after a reign of terror that lasted more than a decade, and getting away with it for over 40 years.

Michelle McNamara died on April 21, 2016. She was nearly done with writing this. Her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, as well as Michelle’s research partner and a journalist friend, finished the book for her. They knew Michelle needed to see this published. It was her life’s work, her greatest obsession.

There are parts of the book with editor’s notes and annotations to let the reader know Michelle hadn’t finished a chapter, or that Michelle had written a note to follow up on something, but never had the chance. These were constant reminders of this wonderful woman’s tragic passing and it made this a much more emotional reading experience for me than I usually would have with a true-crime book.

You could feel Michelle’s drive, her tenacity, her obsession and occasional mania. You could hear her knowledge, her dedication to the facts, her desire to see this book written properly – to give the victims a voice and see justice served.

Michelle was intimately familiar with GSK’s crimes and victims. She knew every piece of evidence and had worked with the cops and the consultants. It’s clear when reading this that one of Michelle’s goals was to make the reader as familiar with these things as she was – to bring you into the hunt with her. To convince you of how awful this monster is and get you fired up for his unmasking. But, honestly, you don’t need a lot of convincing. GSK was a piece of shit.

“I’m envious, for example, of people obsessed with the Civil War, which brims with details but is contained. In my case, the monsters recede but never vanish. They are long dead and being born as I write.”

I’ve been waiting for this book for months, and just before it was finally mine, GSK was caught.

Joseph James DeAngelo. Currently 72 years old.

So while I was reading this – taking in every attack, every clue, every assumption, every sick deed – I was fully aware that this monster had already been caught. And again, this added another level of emotion to the reading experience for me because Michelle never got to see the ending her story could have had.

It’s tragic really.

The crimes are a tragedy. The victims who were assaulted and had to live with that for the last forty years is a tragedy. The victims who were murdered, the loss of life – tragic. The officers who started this case, who took over this case, who finished this case – years of their lives, marriages and relationships, all sacrificed to see this man put into handcuffs. And Michelle, a woman dedicated to the very end of her life, who died too young and never got to be a part of this victory. Tragic all around.

“I don’t care if I’m the one who captures him. I just want bracelets on his wrists and a cell door slamming behind him.”

Throughout the crime reporting of the case, the evidence explanations and the theories and clues are endlessly pursued, and a natural disturbance to your sense of safety is created. That all of this happened in real life, to real people, brings an element of unease to the book that you just can’t get from fiction. There are also personal details of Michelle’s life divulged, including parts of her childhood and her difficult relationship with her mother.

She is honest almost to a fault, seeing no reason to cover up her dark or embarrassing moments. I admire this so much. She takes full responsibility for her obsession with GSK, telling the reader about working away online in her daughter’s room, among her toys, after the little girl had fallen asleep; making notes in crayons, becoming oblivious to red carpet events she attended with her husband, preferring instead to ignore celebrities to do research on her phone. She just couldn’t stop. Everything about this case consumed her thoughts. So much so that she confesses to forgetting a wedding anniversary.

This manic focus comes through on every page in palpable energy. But it’s not exploitative or disingenuous. It is honest and raw, using the details of the crime to create a demand for justice and empathy, as opposed to entertainment.

I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.

– Gillian Flynn, excerpt from her forward

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is a bittersweet read because of the author’s own story, and a balanced and detailed work of true crime because of the author’s talent and heart and drive. Highly recommended for fans of true crime and nonfiction, but just to fans of justice and thrillers and good writing, in general.


A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized 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, 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.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

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.

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