Year 3 / Book 18: I’ll Be Gone In the Dark

18) I’ll Be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamara

This book comes loaded with authorial endorsements (the foreword is by Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame) but also with the tragic knowledge that Michelle McNamara died before finishing her book. This is inescapable throughout the book as her colleagues and peers have completed it and give editorial comments about where this bit comes from, or what McNamara had scrawled in the notes.

The book itself is primarily about the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer that McNamara had been tracking and trailing on her true crime blog. Whilst giving some details of her own unlikely route to this world, her eyes are fixed on the prize of working out who this man is who raped and killed so many women from the late 70s onwards in California. That commitment and obsession propels the narrative at pace, and McNamara is excellent at building that sense of immediacy and urgency in the reader as well. She also has a nice descriptive eye and I found myself gripped by her pursuit and painstaking piecing together of evidence. It is a fascinating dive into an extremely murky world.

Unfortunately, due to her untimely death, the book tails off towards the end – not just because the killer still hasn’t been identified, but because her co-authors are not a patch on her as a writer. This makes for over-complicated sentences, too much academic and technical detail, and a disruption to the pace and narrative arc built up in the first 2/3rds (though this does have the side-benefit of helping you realise what an adept and skilled writer McNamara was). The other thing that disappointed me was that the sheer pace and narrative thrust of the investigation meant that any greater depth or meaning relating to her own life was fleeting at best (unlike, for example, The Fact of A Body which more seamlessly merges the personal and the criminal).

So it’s pacy and interesting, and a window into a world that is not familiar; and McNamara succeeds in pulling the reader into the investigation – you can feel yourself trying to connect the dots or making guesses as information builds. But it’s good rather than outstanding, and left me with the feeling, in every sense, of what could have been.

Score: 7/10

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