Oh man, I am so far behind on my Bingo reviews! I’m going to try really hard to get them all in by the 30th without shortchanging the books. So, here we go.
I chose this one as my “Home Something Home” book because, well, I needed to fill the square and I found a slightly sick kind of irony in a book about a serial killer falling into this category. I actually grew up probably around 5 miles or so from at least three, maybe four, of the Golden State Killer’s attacks, which happened when I was a baby, so ‘close to home’ is pretty literal on this one. I go back and forth on True Crime as a genre, because I love a good mystery, as well as seeing good detective work in action, but I’m not a fan of voyeuristically using other people’s pain as entertainment, and it really is a very fine line. Fortunately it seems Michelle (I need to call her Michelle, not ‘McNamara’ or ‘the author’ simply because I really do feel I know her too well after reading the book to refer to her with that kind of distance) feels the same way I do, and it shows in her writing.
The thing I liked most about this book is that it isn’t just about the murder, Michelle McNamara spends easily just as much time covering how she researched it and how digging into this case affected her and her family. A lot of true crime stays very third person and focuses on the salacious details, here we get enough to understand the horror of what this extremely broken, sadistic person did but we also get how it feels to talk to the head Criminalist the Crime Lab that just can’t stop trying to find a way to use what he has to find this guy, even though there hasn’t been a physical attack in over twenty years. He’s ready to retire, but the case isn’t solved, and he knows the guy is still out there because a victim got a call from him in 2016. Because the GSK is a sick bastard. These relationships between the investigators and their work, and all the investigators trying to solve the case with each other, and then again with Michelle as she talks to them is almost more compelling than the investigation itself, in many ways.
One of the things that is difficult about this book is also the most tragic- as is well known at this point, Michelle died in 2016 before the book was finished and almost exactly two years to the day before the perpetrator was apprehended. So, there was already the specter of not having an answer to “who done it” as the book was being written, but there are also large chunks that were pieced together by her investigating partners after she passed away. Overall this isn’t super distracting, but you can see differences in tone in certain places and on occasion there are a couple things that get a little redundant as they are coming from a couple different articles about the case she had previously written or other sources of Michelle’s work. I also think the final chapter layout may have ended up quite different had she had the opportunity to put all of her own words together in the way that worked for her.
This also created a very different emotional context than there would be if she were still alive. I found myself getting choked up reading her passages about celebrating her anniversary with Patton Oswalt, or juggling this all-consuming, morbid search with the demands of being a parent and wanting to be there when her daughter had sticky fingers and needed help cleaning them. This isn’t bad or good, but I am very sure these would have been much lighter moments than they ended up being. The one thing that was clear, though is Michelle was an extremely intelligent, devoted, talented woman and I’m happy I got to know her a little bit. It also makes the stories Patton Oswalt would tell in his stand up specials that include her just that much funnier, so that is a bonus.
This is my Home Something Home Square for CBR Bingo.