Thursday, December 09, 2021

Nonfiction Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark

For my birthday this summer, my son's girlfriend gave me I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. She loves true crime and knew of this story--and she knows I love to read! This was a perfect choice for Nonfiction November, and it kept me riveted from start to finish.

The author combines true crime writing with memoir. The prologue describes her own growing obsession with this case, as she researches deep into the night from her daughter's playroom. It's easy to see how she became so fixated on this case. Starting in the 1970's, there was a string of unusual and brutal rapes in the Sacramento area. After creating widespread panic in the community (and too much attention), the perpetrator moved onto other areas and eventually, in the 80's, escalated to murder as well. Each cluster of rapes and murders, though, occurred in its own area, with its own police force, so it was decades before investigators finally began to link all of these cases that stretched across California. In fact, that didn't happen until DNA science became prevalent and forensic specialists began testing cold case evidence. Fast-forward to the 2000's, when investigators across the state now recognized that the rapes and murders in the 70's and 80's were all carried out by the same man ... but they didn't know who that was. Michelle, the author, hosted a true crime website, so when she noticed a discussion thread on her website about this case, she soon became enmeshed in it herself. She interviewed the main detectives and forensic experts still working the cases after all these years, she pored over thousands of pages of crime reports, evidence, and suspect interviews, and she did her own investigating. She even coined the serial killer's name, The Golden State Killer, in an article she wrote for the Los Angeles Times. Unfortunately, she died suddenly, before all her hard work came to fruition. Her editors, her assistant, and one of the main contributors to the true crime website finished her book, along with her husband, actor Patton Oswalt. In an appendix, the reader does find out that investigators finally identified and captured the killer, and those most closely involved with the case who had worked with Michelle said that her investigative work and publicity helped.

The unique make-up of this book makes it engrossing and compulsively readable. Some sections are memoir, as Michelle describes her own efforts to investigate the case and her growing obsession with finding this monster of a man. Other sections read like the crime reporting Michelle did in the articles she wrote for California newspapers on the case, providing an in-depth description of the crimes and the ensuing investigations. As you might imagine, the sections describing the crimes are difficult to read and disturbing, but it is all set in this framework of a wide web of people trying to solve the case and find the perpetrator. Some sections were drafted by Michelle but finished by an editor, and others were fully completed before her death. Part Three was entirely written after her death, by her assistant and someone from the true crime website who was helping her, but this section directly incorporates her notes, interviews, and investigative files from her computer. The book begins with an Introduction by thriller/crime writer Gillian Flynn and ends with a moving Afterword  by her husband. Appendices include articles she wrote and a final conclusion to the case, after the monster was finally arrested. All in all, it is a chilling but captivating story, more twisty and unbelievable than any fictional thriller and told in a gripping, fascinating way.

344 pages, Harper Perennial


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, read mainly by narrator Gabra Zackman with Gillian Flynn and Patton Oswalt reading their own sections, and/or download it from Audible. The sample is Gillian Flynn reading her Introduction to the book, which gives you a good overview.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!



Or you can order I'll Be Home in the Dark from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.



  1. It makes me so mad that this guy lived free for decades and I am so glad they finally caught him. I think I'll add this one to my list though parts that hit close to home will be tough (I think I told you that one of my classmates' mother and boyfriend were victims)

    1. I know - he would have gotten away with it forever if not for DNA technology. Horrifying - I was surprised you knew people related to victims ... then I wasn't when I thought of the breadth of his crimes across the state.

  2. It’s such a fascinating story. I watched the documentary series which I thought was well done

    1. Oh, interesting - I'll have to check that out! My son just got HBO :)