It’s been a long, long time since I had a moment to spare to review a book. Who knew that having a toddler would leave you with so little time to read/review? Oh right. Everyone! 😉
I’m taking a step out of my usual urban fantasy comfort zone to review a true crime novel that was truly spectacular. SPOILERS AND CONTENT WARNING. While the words true crime should warn you that the content is going to be rough, I wanted to give extra warning. The author doesn’t spare details and they’re gritty and disturbing. If you can’t handle true crime, you might want to skip this. Also spoiler alert because this is relatively new, though the information is old.
Written by the late Michelle McNamara, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is all about a prolific serial she dubbed the Golden State Killer (GSK, for future reference). The GSK was also referred to as the East Area Rapist (EAR) at the time that his crimes were committed, so the book refers to him as both, along with “original EAR” since there had been another rapist in the area at the same time.
Again, I want to reiterate that the content of this book may be disturbing to some but Michelle did a wonderful job of not glorifying the violence. Describing the acts themselves was a way to explain what the GSK was like as a criminal. I felt she was very respectful of the victims, living and dead. She wasn’t trying to glorify this guy. It wasn’t so much about explaining the whys of this guy’s psyche but more about getting him off the streets once and for all.
The GSK started with assaults, moving from single or women alone at home to couples in the Sacramento area. He was meticulous in planning everything: stalking his victims for days or more, learning easy ways in and out, cutting phone lines, etc. He’d take things from the house and then drop them on his way out, rarely keeping the usual serial killer keepsakes.
In a time before CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), this guy left precious little in the way of clues. Detectives starting out had maybe the odd shoe impression and reports of prowlers in the neighborhood. He’d cross jurisdictions, thereby delaying getting fingered for a crime until he was well and truly gone. Once or twice he went way out of his comfort zone and down to Southern California.
He started operating in the early 70s, during a time when people still left doors unlocked and garages open at night. He moved on from rapes to rape and murder and his victims numbered in the dozens. Police got close to physically catching him several times, but his planning made it seemingly easy for him to evade pursuit.
The GSK stopped (or seemingly stopped) around the time when DNA testing was just getting started, mid 80s or so. At this point, California was submitting sample after sample to CODIS and their own database. Even now, there are detectives, both official and armchair, trying to catch this guy and I hope they do. The victims and their families deserve to hear that clink of handcuffs.
Michelle McNamara unfortunately passed away unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 46, leaving behind husband Patton Oswalt and a beautiful little girl, whose name I’m sure you can Google but I’m not going to share because she’s in elementary school and deserves privacy.
Michelle had not quite finished the book when she passed, so close friends with knowledge of the case and her husband, Patton Oswalt, finished it for her. There is a truly beautiful afterword by Mr. Oswalt that is a must read, even if you never read fore or afterwords. Please read this book cover to cover. It is so totally worth it. And you never know if you might have that nugget of knowledge that will break the case wide open, as the TV cop shows say.
Rating: A+. Absolute must have for any true crime aficionado. And for anyone really. If you’d like a little taster of her writing, her blog True Crime Diary is still up and running.