Author Gillian Flynn, of GONE GIRL fame, wrote an introduction to Michelle McNamara’s true crime book I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: ONE WOMAN’S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER, which was published posthumously, in which she states about the author: “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.” This pretty much sums up why I read and how I select the books that I do about the deep, dark, and twisted behind-the-scenes grit of true crime. My interest is in the writing itself and the research that the writer has put into the book to examine the backstory of a criminal mind. In this case, McNamara did not live to complete her nearly finished story about the Golden State Killer who spread fear and unthinkable crimes up and down the state of California, but her researchers and husband Patton Oswalt put her decade of work together into an astonishing book, an in-depth look at a most horrific series of events.
The subject is a serial rapist and murderer, who committed crimes from the 1970s through 1980s. Police and FBI agents tracked the case from city to city and once DNA testing came to be, it was confirmed that the crimes were in fact all committed by one person, however he still eluded them.
McNamara was determined to understand who he was, to find him. She immersed herself in each case. With each law enforcement officer. They welcomed her. She was one of them. Her research is staggering.
Even if you are used to reading terrifying details that accompany true crime, this is one that you will need to brace yourself for. It is not easy to read. It is haunting. The crimes that the Golden State Killer committed are beyond sadistic, truly the actions of a disturbed mind. There were times that I thought about putting the book down. I wasn’t sure I could finish it. It wasn’t about what he did that intrigued me, it was about what the author was doing to find him.
That Oswalt lost his wife and was grieving, that their young daughter was left without a mother (he has since recently remarried) but he was able to take his wife’s work and put her book out in the world is nothing short of incredible. As he said: “I wanted to do right by her.”