I’ve heard amazing things about I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. One of my resolutions for 2020 is to read more nonfiction that I find interesting, and true crime is a topic that is endlessly fascinating to me. I expected to be caught up in the chase for an elusive killer. What I didn’t expect was breathtaking, engaging prose dripping with compassion and empathy for the victims. Beautifully written and deeply insightful, this book was an experience unlike any other I’ve yet found in the genre.
“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.” – from the introduction, written by Gillian Flynn
I’m blown away by the level of research McNamara put into this book, and the fact that she didn’t give the killer center stage, because he didn’t deserve the attention. Instead, she focused on the victims, on the ties that bound them together, on their lives and how those lives were forever changed by said criminal. Something I found interesting is how seamlessly McNamara wove her own memoir into a work of true crime without the book ever truly becoming about her. We see how consumed with the hunt she becomes as she mixes the crime narrative with what her days look like, how the case began to interrupt her sleep and her life with her husband, who she always painted as immensely understanding. We follow along as McNamara hunts down the tiniest wisps of clues, spending countless hours mining every bit of information she can find for the slightest details that might have been overlooked.
“He loses his power when we know his face.”
The fact that McNamara didn’t live to finish her book or to see the killer she had hunted for so many years be brought to justice is heartbreaking. You can tell distinctly what sections she wrote herself and what was compiled after her death by others. The woman could write, and that shone through the sections she penned. The final sections were missing that style for obvious reasons. However, the afterword included by her husband, Patton Oswalt, was poignant and incredibly moving. I can’t imagine how hard her loss must have been, and how raw that loss must have still been when this book was published. I love that a further note on the killer’s capture was included at the very end showing that, while McNamara didn’t live to see it, his being brought to justice will forever be linked to this book in the minds of her readers.
“One day soon, you’ll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out. You’ll hear footsteps coming up your front walk. Like they did for Edward Wayne Edwards, twenty-nine years after he killed Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Like they did for Kenneth Lee Hicks, thirty years after he killed Lori Billingsley, in Aloha, Oregon.
The doorbell rings.
No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell.
This is how it ends for you.
“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,” you threatened a victim once.
Open the door. Show us your face.
Walk into the light.”
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