"What I always think about, I told him, are experiments that show that animals in captivity would rather have to search for their food than have it given to them. Seeking is the lever that tips our dopamine gush. What I don't mention is the uneasy realization I've had about how much our frenetic searching mirrors the compulsive behavior - the trampled flowerbeds, scratch marks on window screens, crank calls - of the one we seek."
- Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
My seventh review of the year is a special one. It may be the most personal of all the reviews I'll write this year, and I'll tell you exactly why.
Michelle McNamara was - and is - one of my heroes. An incredible writer and researcher, a lover of true crime, and from all accounts a funny, smart, and beautiful person, McNamara was someone who I followed and looked up to. In 2016 she tragically passed away, leaving behind her husband, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, and her daughter.
McNamara had been working on this book for some time before her death, and in the aftermath her husband decided to finish it for her. This book is so meaningful because Michelle's hard work is finally being shown to the world, and her husband has also had the chance to pay tribute to his late wife.
McNamara is well known to true crime lovers. She started the site True Crime Diary to share information about cold cases that weren't making the news, and she gained a huge following. True Crime Diary was (and still is) informative, well-written, and, most importantly, gave the proper recognition and compassion to the victims of crime and their families.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark is McNamara's story of researching the Golden State Killer. Editor's notes throughout the book explain that many passages were pieced together after her death from her notes. Despite this, the book is incredibly detailed and well-researched, and it is clear that Michelle felt passionately that this story needed to be told.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark is not for the faint of heart. It does not shy away from the terrifying details of the crimes the Golden State Killer committed. Even as a true crime addict, I found it very hard to read at times. It is a haunting book, and one that explores the farthest extreme of human behaviour imaginable. The fact that the case remains unsolved is all the more unsettling for the reader. I found walking at night - either alone or in a group - scary as I was reading this book, and the tiniest noise in my house would make me jump.
The most interesting part of I'll Be Gone in the Dark was the contrast between the two versions McNamara presents of herself in the story. One is a mother who attends film premieres with her famous husband. The other is a woman who stays up at night writing about depravity and horror. I felt an affinity to McNamara as I read the book. She had a passion for uncovering the darkness in the world, and she found a way to do it even as she was juggling all of the other things in her life.
Reading about the process of tracking a serial killer was enthralling. McNamara made important advances in the investigation of the identity of the killer. She was methodical in her research and I can't imagine being patient enough to spend that much time looking for one person.
I would recommend I'll Be Gone in the Dark to any true crime lover. It is an incredibly interesting and frustrating story, and a well told one at that. It will leave you wondering and wishing for answers to the questions that have plagued the state of California for decades.
If you like this you may also like:
- The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart
- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule