Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark


I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Michelle McNamara
Nonfiction (crime)

Is it terrible to be gleeful about this book? I can’t help it. I’m a Criminal Minds junkie who reads about psychopaths for fun and this book is like candy for my mild obsession. I also waited months for this to work its way through holds at my library, which certainly built anticipation.

You’ve probably heard about this book. It was all over the media when law enforcement arrested the Golden State Killer earlier this year. For years, Michelle obsessed over catching GSK; she even named him–he was otherwise known as the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (EAR/ONS). He was also the Vidalia Ransacker. His numerous crime sprees–different segments of the same sick path–resulted in numerous names and confusion.

Michelle was part of a passionate [obsessed] community of amateur crime sleuths who chatted online and occasionally partnered with retired detectives or active cold case detectives to bring modern technology into the evidence for old cases.

Michelle died before GSK was caught, and reading this book with the knowledge that he is now behind bars is at once sorrowful and victorious.

The skill in Michelle’s writing is unmistakable. She has a knack for narrowing in on the most devastating personal details of a crime, a way of turning faceless names into humans we care deeply about. In one evocative statement, she explained that a murdered wife still slept with her baby blanket, a white satin-edged piece found between the two dead bodies on their bed.

I slept with my baby blanket well into my teens, only stopping when it fell to pieces. I still sleep with a stuffed animal, a small concession to the comfort of years-old habits. It’s horrifying to imagine my own bed as a similar murder scene. Even typing that was chilling, but I’m choosing to believe that talking about this won’t place some type of curse on me.

Did I say I was gleeful about this book? That it was candy? It was also balm, and it landed with far more force than I anticipated.

This book is especially important for our time, when some believe that respectable, controlled men can’t commit horrific crimes, especially against women. In the news stories about GSK, you see neighbors and coworkers explaining how nice and caring of a man he was, how little they can imagine him doing these things.

Michelle wrote a letter to GSK, to the old man she was confident would be caught one day. It is haunting. She describes the games he played, the pleasure he took in being always ahead of the hunt. I can’t help but think that hundreds and thousands of men–assaulters, abusers, rapists–have played the same game. They think their grades, jobs, cleverness, money, or name will protect them. They echo, literally or not, GSK’s words to a victim: “You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

Victims have stopped being silent. The spotlights are out, and it’s only a matter of time until those men are caught too.

We’re kicking open doors, flooding the secret dark places with truth and belief and light.

Michelle may be gone, but thousands of women carry on her work, shouting #MeToo and telling their stories even when the costs seem too high. What a beautiful legacy.

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