Book Review- A Deep Dive into the Work of an Armchair Detective

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by the late Michelle McNamara

When I stumbled upon the podcast My Favorite Murder sometime in 2017, I was happy to hear that I was not alone in my true crime fascination, bordering on obsession. I was relieved to discover that the dark world of true crime could be funny and refreshing, too. Of course, there is nothing humorous about the loss of an innocent life, but Karen and Georgia make it feel a little more normal to be browsing Netflix for the latest serial killer documentary at 11:00PM on a Tuesday. I had always been intrigued by the usual creeps; Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, The Night Stalker, and John List. I have my freshman year of high school Forensic Science teacher to thank in part for piquing my interest; his slideshow presentations of clown paintings by Gacy lives rent-free in my mind to this day.

I hadn’t heard of the Golden State Killer until My Favorite Murder, and I was shocked to learn about the multitude of his crimes. The podcast is also how I came across Michelle McNamara and her work as arguably the original armchair detective and internet sleuth on I’ll Be Gone in The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. If you know the story of Michelle, you know that she passed unexpectedly before completing the book, and before the GSK was caught through the use of DNA matching. Although it is not confirmed that Michelle’s work had any direct correlation to the apprehension of the GSK in 2018, I do feel that her dedication and research kept the investigation moving in some way. I know she is celebrating, somewhere.

I will say that I don’t find the Golden State Killer to be a particularly interesting criminal. But, for some background, the GSK’s crimes spanned from 1973-1986 and possibly later, until he was caught in April 2018. The GSK is suspected of at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries. Due to California statute of limitations (boo), the GSK was not convicted of the 1970’s rapes. In August 2020, the GSK (Joseph DeAngelo) was sentenced to life imprisonment. The investigation of this case is where my true crime addiction really gets its fix. And Michelle got that. I’ll Be Gone in The Dark isn’t a book about the GSK; it’s about the stories of the lives that were disrupted, and putting the pieces together when it seems there is some invisible force stopping you from doing so. I really enjoyed Michelle’s writing style, which I felt was a compelling mix of crime fiction and memoir. Michelle put a lot of work into setting the scene with detailed maps, photos, and descriptions of California landscapes (which sometimes went right over my head as a New Englander). Michelle also delivered on statistics and facts; did you know that over 8,00 suspects in the GSK case had been examined over the years?

I did feel at some points that some of the info jam packed into the book was extraneous and a bit confusing, and there was a lot of jumping back and forth between timelines of events/crimes. However, that didn’t lead me to sway too much in my opinion due to the book being unfinished by the original author. Overall, this “part memoir, part true crime study” is a must-read for my fellow Murderinos and armchair detectives out there. Feel free to let me know your own thoughts on this one, as I get back to binge-watching Unsolved Mysteries. SSDGM!

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