TRUE CRIME//I’ll Be Gone in the Dark- Michelle McNamara

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This book has been garnering a lot of attention lately, due to the fact that the case the book is about- the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer– is believed to have been apprehended (via, of all things, those DNA testing kits you can get from Ancestry.com). Michelle McNamara’s book has been credited by some as being the driving force behind the solving of a cold case from the late 70s, early 80s, although the police forces involved have denied this.

Michelle McNamara died in 2016; a true crime blogger, she became obsessed with solving the case in which one man was suspected of committing 12 murders, 50 rapes and over a hundred burglaries between 1974-1986 in California. She sifted through thousands of forum posts, befriended detectives on the police forces involved and read hundreds of documents from the various different cases that made up the vast spider web of one man’s horrific crime spree. This book is as much about her dedication to solving the case as it is to the victims of the crimes, the man who perpetrated them and the police who tried to stop him.

I’d tried to listen to the excellent Casefile podcast on this case. However, it’s about seven hours all in and I bailed after one episode; the matter-of-fact tone and details of the crimes were too much for me (and I like true crime!) However, this book is sensitive and respectful of the victims, never ghoulish or gory. I felt that, unlike some true crime writers, McNamara was truly on their side.

It’s also part-memoir, about how the case bled slowly into McNamara’s life- often in funny ways: she details the ways her family were used to her eccentricities and absolute determination to solve this case; the way she became friends with one of the police officers whose obsession she shared, often understanding each other’s enthusiasm when the other found what they thought was a lead, only to feel the same disappointment when it came to naught; how she became part of an online army of researchers, who used their own time and knowledge to delve deeper than the police might ever have the time to. One of those researchers was drafted in after McNamara’s death to help complete the book and, although interesting, this section lacks the warmth of the author herself.

This book is ultimately a book about obsession: the obsession of the man who stalked his victims ruthlessly before committing atrocities; of the police to find him, only to be endlessly disappointed for 40 years (including a near-miss that could have stopped him quite early on); of people brought together by the internet, determined to solve a mystery; and the obsession of one woman who decided that this was the case to crack and who, very probably, led to the case hopefully coming to an end.

I was utterly gripped.

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