Believe it or not, I haven’t disappeared. This is actually my fifteenth book this year, but the ten unreviewed books are part of a series that I’ll probably be reading for the rest of the year. But I needed a break, so I jumped on this.
I picked up I’ll Be Gone in the Dark having no knowledge of who the writer was, or the specifics around the case. In fact, it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I even realized this was about the Original Night Stalker, also known as the East Area Rapist, also (also) known as the Golden State Killer. For three years in the late-70s, Sacramento, California was ravaged by an unidentified man. At least 50 women were raped, hundreds of homes were broken into, and at least 10 people were murdered. This man has never been caught, and much of the public knows little about the case. The last murder occurred in 1986, but it wasn’t until DNA testing in the late-90s connected the crimes that all the rapes and murders were tied together.
What is truly blood curdling is that as late as 2001, a full 15 years after his rampage apparently ended, he was still calling his victims to taunt and threaten them.
I first heard about these crimes a few years ago via the Unresolved podcast, and I found the story both compelling and chilling.
Honestly, if you want a recitation of the crimes and the titillation of exploring the tragedies of others, I would suggest giving that podcast a listen over this book. McNamara doesn’t flinch from detailing the grisly and horrendous actions of the man she named the Golden State Killer, but horror is never the intent of this book. This is almost as much memoir as it is true crime, and she’s equally comfortable describing the endless cold case investigations and disjointed bits of information as she is the lives torn apart by the serial killer at the center of this story.
I think this both speaks highly of the book, and is going to be the main thing that turns some people off. The narrative is kind of all over the place, and can be hard to follow at times. Given that McNamara takes great pains to explore the various dead ends of the various law enforcement investigations, it’s impossible to get any kind of grasp on who this person is, what his motivations were, or how he may have chosen his victims. The fact is, we don’t really know anything, and this ignorance, more than anything, is the heart of this book. McNamara doesn’t really attempt to sort it all out – because, ultimately, no one has been able to. The first of these crimes were committed forty years ago, and we’re not really any closer to knowing who the man is than investigators were then.
It’s frustrating, and perplexing, and disheartening, and fascinating. And this confused bramble of emotions is conveyed eloquently by McNamara. She really was an excellent writer.
Two years ago, I read a book about four young men accused, imprisoned, and murdered alleged crimes that almost certainly never happened. I started my review detailing a lynching that is briefly described in the book,. In order to accurately describe what happened, I had to do my own research into the events, and part of that research consisted of me trying to find weather records for the day in question. It was an innocuous detail, but one I felt important to what I wanted to say. That level of detail can be found on every page of this book. McNamara meticulously combed through records of even tangentially related facts. And her hard work pays off, because this feels fully realized and three dimensional.
When it’s all said and done, you probably shouldn’t bother reading this if you want anything close to completion. Not only has the Original Night Stalker never been caught, but Michelle McNamara died prior to this book’s completion. If you recognize her name, she was the wife of Patton Oswalt, and died in April of 2016. He wrote a touching post-script to this book.