You’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.
The story of this book’s journey to existence is a fascinating one. McNamara, a true-crime blogger and, in a kind of surreal twist to the story, wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, became obsessed with the serial rapist/murderer known alternately as the East Area Rapist & the Original Nightstalker. She coined the name Golden State Killer and set about to track him down via really intense research and investigations. She tragically died young, only in her forties, and two of her colleagues came together to put this book together. The book is a fascinating one. As true crime stories go, the story of the Golden State Killer’s myriad crimes is a damn good one and the book is creepy, grim and unsettling in all the right ways and none of the wrong ones; it never feels exploitative and keeps sympathy for the victims even as sections of the book unfold like a crackerjack thriller novel. McNamara’s writing paints the Golden State Killer as a fascinating figure, a serial criminal of near legendary proportions, and the book is fascinating as it delves into the character of the man who carried out these crimes. But the book is also very much about McNamara herself: how she became interested in true crime, her earlier obsession with a crime that took place near her childhood home as she was growing up, the relationships she forms with the people who have tracked the GSK over the years. McNamara herself comes to life just as vividly as the GSK does and this element of the book is, I think, a big part of what elevates it above the often trashy true crime genre. The book, for lack of a better way to say it, has a balancing force of light to oppose the GSK’s force of darkness. The title borrows from a threat made by the GSK to a teenage victim but McNamara refuses to let the threat move her. If the GSK has disappeared into the darkness, McNamara refuses to be silent and her conviction that she will find the culprit is a force of righteousness that really comes across. Of course, I was about two-thirds of the way through this book, which only came out in February, when the absolutely shocking news that the police had made an arrest in the case broke and I think I had something like the absolute best possible experience of this book for that reason. Having plenty of familiarity with the case by the time the news broke and then ending the book by looking at the investigation that ultimately had led to the alleged culprit was a wonderful experience, one I’ll never forget. It makes the final chapter of the book, a chapter McNamara addresses directly to the Golden State Killer, particularly moving and impactful; though she be dead, yet she speaks and her words are pointing fingers of recrimination and justice. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was already getting a lot of buzz as a classic of the genre and a great book that transcends its genre (and it is both of those things), but I think this final twist to the tale is the one that will cement this book’s status as a masterpiece. It was already a great book; now it’s a classic. 4 stars.
tl;dr – part true-crime thriller, part investigative memoir, this book is gripping, compelling and fascinating; the real life twist that came after it truly cements it as an essential read. 4 stars.