Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

One thing people are surprised to learn about me is that I have a BA in criminal justice. I've got 16 years and counting working in the publishing industry in one form or another, and a degree in criminal justice that I've never used. (I did minor in anthropology and English, so I'm using part of my education at least.) And I did love my university experience. I loved my major and I especially loved the department.

But even now, as a reader, I generally spend my time in fictional crime, avoiding the true stuff. Part of that could be attributed to attempting to read the wrong selection of true crime too early. It doesn't mean that I haven't been fascinated by the same cases that catch the attention of everyone else - I wrote a paper on Jack the Ripper, for goodness' sake. But still, the fictional pages of Kinsey Millhone's investigations were much more my jam than Ann Rule's.

Which brings me to today's post and Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. My husband and I are fans of Patton Oswalt - and that's the easiest explanation for seeing this one here. But I'm also doing the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, which requires reading a true crime as one of the tasks.

More so than both of those, though, has been the fact that McNamara, who was already well known because of her site, True Crime Diary, would have been kicking off what would no doubt be a huge career as a well-known true crime writer with the release of her first book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark.

That made this a much more difficult read.

The book, which is about McNamara's search for the identity of a serial rapist and murderer she dubbed the Golden State Killer, was deeply personal in addition to being a literal hunt for the identity of a killer whose crimes were only connected in the early 2000's in spite of the fact that the crimes occurred over two decades prior. Because it was her first book, McNamara delved into her own history and where her interest in true crime began - the unsolved murder of a neighborhood girl when McNamara was a child. And McNamara talks about that case as well as her own childhood and background, even admitting that the draw to investigating cold cases, something her husband supported wholly, was much more appealing than red carpet events (as an introvert, this is totally understandable!).

See, difficult.

And the case she's investigating is highly disturbing. Fair warning before going in!

I had no familiarity with this case at all. And it's likely that most people reading this book won't either. The East Area Rapist/The Original Night Stalker terrorized California from 1978 to 1986. And, as mentioned above, the true scope of his crimes wasn't actually connected until DNA evidence was reexamined in 2001. McNamara stresses throughout the book that police at the time believed they were dealing with two different criminals due to both the widespread area of the crimes and the evolution from rapist to murderer. This was enhanced by the lack of communication between departments at the time as well.

And the case has never been solved. According to Wikipedia, a reward was offered as late as 2016 in an attempt to finally close the case.

McNamara was, as her subtitle states, obsessed. But her writing adds a human element to her own story as well as the victims, their families, the investigators, all of whom were haunted by these crimes. Gillian Flynn, who wrote the foreword (and narrates that portion of the audiobook as well), admits to her own fascination with true crime and the understanding that the genre as a whole is built on tragedy and the people who suffered it, also says that her cherrypicked readings of the genre have been dependent on the people writing the books - that human element, that focus on the victims and their story, a care and attention that you get here in McNamara's writing.

I really can't recommend this book highly enough. It is gripping and amazing and it really makes me wonder what McNamara could have or would have tackled next. It's a bittersweet read in that sense as McNamara was clearly a huge talent.

I'll Be Gone In the Dark was unfinished at the time of McNamara's death but the book is complete. Or as complete as it can be, thanks to McNamara's husband, her research assistant, an investigative journalist who was hired to help, and her editor. The book hit shelves just last week and is followed by a podcast behind the book (which kicked off yesterday), which also coincides with a four part series on the Golden State Killer on the ID channel. According to the book, McNamara's own blog and discussion boards on the case are still open as well. Hopefully, McNamara's work will spawn new interest and bring about some sort of closure to the case!

As a bit of an afterword, I did read this one on audio. The foreword is read by Gillian Flynn herself, the epilogue by Patton Oswalt, and the book is read by Gabra Zackman, who is a completely fantastic narrator.

No comments: