Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Michelle McNamara stands as a legend today among true crime authors and investigative journalists for her tireless work in helping to unmask the Golden State Killer. Though unfortunately her book about the whole case, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published posthumously, it provides one of the most profound and insightful examinations of a serial killer and the long investigation leading to his arrest in 2018.
Table of contents
Michelle McNamara’s Tireless Search
True crime literature is a rather slippery slope as I see it, mainly because a number of authors see it as an opportunity to turn someone’s very real tragedy into a piece of entertainment to be consumed by the morbidly curious. Few are the authors, in my experience, who care capable of taking a realistic and humane approach, showing compassion towards the victims and no embellishments of the perpetrator.
In my opinion, Michelle McNamara was definitely the second kind of author, and though her sole published book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (foreword by Gillian Flynn, afterword by Patton Oswalt), came out posthumously, it forever set the bar much higher for the genre as a whole.
Published two years after her passing and two months before the Golden State Killer’s arrest, the investigation it contains has been cited as pivotal by a large number of people. Michelle McNamara began her investigation in the crimes of the Golden State Killer, a moniker she herself gave him, before the public even had much knowledge about him. For over a decade she conducted her own investigation, increasingly aided by law enforcement officials who were very receptive and cooperative to her efforts; they believed in her.
Apart from consulting public records and having access to police archives, McNamara took every extra step she could, from visiting crime scenes to interviewing victims, and this book traces the entirety of her investigation from its start until Michelle‘s tragic and untimely passing.
This is, I believe, the definitive book on the subject of the Golden State Killer, as written by someone who investigated him for ten years, and whose efforts helped lead to his capture.
A Wealth of Details in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
So, the first aspect which I think needs to be examined when looking at any true crime book, is just how much detail it offers, and how precise the information is. As far as the amount of information we are given is concerned, I’m fairly certain we weren’t spared even a fraction of any little detail Michelle managed to uncover over her decade-long investigation; it’s safe to say she delved deeper into this case than anyone else ever has.
She took the time and care to visit each case individually, and while I know you’re expecting gruesome and unsettling details to accompany the crimes, I feel the need to warn you, there are some truly disturbing elements born from the mind of a pure sadist. The Golden State Killer’s crimes are beyond all reason and justification, and we’re never allowed to forget this.
He’s the fake shark in Jaws, barely seen so doubly feared.― Michelle McNamara, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
While I think some authors would take this approach for the shock value, I truly feel like McNamara‘s intention was to keep alive the memory of the victims and what they were forced to endure; a memorial and testament to their path in life. After all, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for us to read about, there is no comparison with experiencing the actual abomination of the man’s crimes.
Though the author never met the man in question, her tremendous research into his actions has allowed her to build somewhat of a portrait of the man she believed to be responsible. While I don’t think we’ll ever truly be able to pierce the disturbed minds of serial killers, I do think there are curious bits and pieces of insight, ones we might be able to use to our advantage one day.
One Woman’s Investigation
Despite the tremendous amount of information we’re given about the Golden State Killer, the crimes he committed and his victims, for me personally, the main captivation of this book was seeing McNamara‘s investigation unfold from start to finish. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark contains about ten years’ worth of passionate work, and we get to see it all laid out in a neat timeline.
In my case, the monsters recede but never vanish. They are long dead and being born as I write.― Michelle McNamara, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
We become privy to all the techniques Michelle made use of to gather information, all the people she interviewed, and her longstanding cooperation with law enforcement agencies who welcomed her with open arms. If there ever was a book making a case for citizen detectives to be a real possibility, I would say this is definitely the one.
Alongside McNamara, we follow her life almost like we would a novelized story, going through the beats of every case she became immersed in, following her into the depths of a passion-turned-obsession. As much as we learn about the killer, we also learn a great deal about her as a person, about the strength, determination, and most importantly, the kindness she carried into the world.
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Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot might certainly make for entertaining detective stories, but if you’ve ever been curious about how it’s actually done in the real world, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a fantastic place to start. Though she wasn’t there to see her work bear fruit, McNamara‘s efforts and writing have not only impacted literature, but actual human lives. She played a role none could predict in helping bring one of the most heinous criminals in United States history to justice, and I am extremely glad her work was immortalized.
The Final Verdict
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara is a very important milestone in the true crime genre, following one woman’s passionate investigation which ultimately helped to unmask a now-infamous serial killer. Though quite heavy in its themes, if you are interested in the topic of the Golden State Killer and the remarkable woman who helped bring him into the light, this is a book you absolutely have to read.
Michelle Eileen McNamara
(April 14, 1970 – April 21, 2016)
Michelle Eileen McNamara was an American true crime author whose tireless work helped law enforcement finally bring to justice the Golden State Killer. Best-known for her posthumously published book titled I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara also wrote a large number of articles on the case for the Los Angeles Magazine.