The account’s necessarily fragmented nature may be jarring, but its juxtaposition of case facts with personal notes and reflection is also one of its greatest strengths. Had Michelle McNamara merely completed a comprehensive look at the Golden State Killer’s crimes in order to generate more investigative leads, the book would have been rendered obsolete the instant that DeAngelo was arrested. Instead, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a timeless, personal memoir about a woman’s obsessive hunt for justice as well as a moving, fully realized portrait of the killer’s victims, their families, and the army of heroic detectives who tirelessly pursued a predator for many decades. Michelle McNamara steers clear of the lurid sensationalism that can prevail in the true crime genre. Other crime narratives can sometimes elevate killers, lending them an almost mythic status. McNamara’s depth of empathy for the Golden State Killer’s victims puts them at the center of the story instead. Moreover, the intimacy of her narrative voice combined with her well-chosen details never allow us a safe, voyeuristic vantage point from which to observe the horrors she describes ... McNamara’s prose is striking yet unfussy ... The book is replete with...efficient yet evocative descriptions. McNamara is especially adept at infusing the narrative with the specific atmosphere of 1970s and ’80s California, evoking disco clubs, muscle cars, and hot summer days at the beach along with the hopeful promise of the residents of tract homes in impeccably planned subdivisions ... Far from being a liability, the patchwork structure of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark transforms it into a fascinating metanarrative that explores the nature of true crime obsession itself ... it is McNamara, brimming with heart and relentless in her quest for her justice, who is far more compelling than her sad-sack subject could ever be.
...[a] meticulously researched, uniquely evocative nonfiction opus ... With unflinching self-awareness, McNamara captures the adrenaline rush that accompanies each potential lead and the crushing disappointment that follows when most inevitably hit a dead end ... The true crime genre has been criticized for exploiting trauma, but McNamara’s attention to specific details humanizes but doesn’t overexpose her subjects. Their trauma had become a part of McNamara in some small way, and her narration serves as a constant reminder of the case’s emotional and psychological toll ... I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is narrative true crime journalism at its very finest, a complex, multilayered, chilling portrait of a faceless monster, and a remarkable tribute to the woman who, up until her last day, believed she would one day have him in her crosshairs.
While McNamara was — spoiler alert — ultimately unable to unmask the killer’s identity, her book is reflective and candid in such a way that it still produces revelations ... What we discover, beautifully, is McNamara’s interest in human beings. There’s a spooky, suspenseful magic to the way the author constructs bite-sized short stories and infuses them with that lurking inevitability of terrible, potentially deadly crimes ... the book’s patchwork in Part 3 — effective as it is — can’t quite compensate for the loss of her voice. And yet this is all part of what makes I’ll Be Gone such a singular, fascinating read. It’s lifelike in its incompletion. Had McNamara lived to wrap this book on her own, one suspects the end result could have been a masterwork. It still is, mostly — a posthumous treasure that feels thrillingly alive.
Readers with a detective-style true-crime jones will probably find I’ll Be Gone in the Dark a bit of a letdown ... But the lack of a concrete answer in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark works to highlight McNamara’s other, more evocative gifts ... I’ll Be Gone in the Dark blossoms into a masterful accounting of what might at first seem like a minor issue: where. We’re used to thinking of crime as the product of psychological, historical, and social factors, but in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark McNamara skillfully demonstrates the role geography and architecture played in shaping the Golden State Killer’s reign of terror ... the detective’s nose for the crucial clue transmutes so easily into a novelist’s eye for the concrete detail that conjures a memory or emotion. She applies the same gift to a handful of portraits of people affected by the killer’s crimes ... These read like fragments from Raymond Carver stories, tales of ordinary lives fractured by incomprehensible violence. Had she lived, McNamara might have helped identify the man who committed that violence, but before she died, she did something nearly as miraculous: making them all live again in some small way.
The book is a powerful piece of writing which never attempts to conceal that it was finished posthumously, with editorial references to chapters taken from transcripts, or reconstructed from notes or early drafts, constant reminders that this was a work in progress. Curiously, these reminders make for a stronger work, lending the book a strange sense of vitality ... To her credit, McNamara doesn’t focus exclusively on the unknown perpetrator. The book is an empathic look at those whose lives are affected by those crimes, including victims, family members and investigators ... I’ll Be Gone in the Dark stands as a testament to that work, a masterpiece of reportage and inquiry.
As a record of obsession, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark delivers a nearly fluorescent portrait of the fanatic’s life: the sleepless nights and shut-in days, the rabbit holes of online message boards, the underground economies of samizdat information ... no matter how grisly things get – and there’s no shortage of horror with more than 50 sexual assaults, at least 10 murders, and tableaux of psychological torture – McNamara retains a sense of humour. But it’s a humour tempered by moral exigency. To identify a killer is to take away his power and render him banal, McNamara argues. In one of the book’s many sharp insights, she likens herself and all amateur detectives to the killers they seek. Both perpetrator and sleuth share an uncommon and singular compulsion ... 'The Golden State Killer haunts their dreams,' McNamara writes. 'He’s ruined their marriages. He’s burrowed so deeply inside their heads that they want to, or have to, believe that if they locked eyes with him, they’d know.' You come away from I’ll Be Gone in the Dark suspecting much the same of McNamara.
McNamara and her collaborators have written an un-put-down-able account of the crimes, the faded suburban California world where they took place and the dogged police detectives who remain haunted by the case. Just as powerful is McNamara's investigation into her own obsession with The Golden State Killer. Her voice throughout is unfailingly smart and wry.
...McNamara’s posthumous masterpiece, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, is a testament to her generous way of storytelling ... McNamara takes us on a journey that quickly becomes all-consuming – and not just for those of us peering in. It becomes all-consuming for her too, particularly as she travels and loses sleep and reads and rereads and interviews and reinterviews and never, ever stops. All in the name of uncovering the truth ... On top of the facts (and believe me, they are countless), it’s a generous glimpse into McNamara’s own psyche and the toll it can take to be so tireless. She details the relationship she shared with her late mother, the understanding between her and her husband, Patton Oswalt (who very much supported her work to find the Golden State Killer), and the love she had for her own daughter, Alice. She reminds us, through her book, that our obsessions can spill out beyond our own hearts and minds and lead us to kindred spirits. But she also reminds us (especially through the account of a night spent reading case files amidst the backdrop of a stranger’s wedding), that our obsessions can make us feel isolated and alone.
If there is a criticism about McNamara’s otherwise scintillating work, it's the book's disjointed structure. We rocket back to the past for the crimes, and zip to the present for the author’s conversations with experts. We race up and down the state of California incessantly. The antidote, however, is McNamara’s poignant prose. You turn the pages just to see which revealing gem you’ll be presented with next.
I found myself drawn in by her obsession. She analyzes her own drive, sometimes harshly, in the rich autobiographical portions of the book. She writes about late nights in her young daughter’s playroom, scribbling penal codes in crayon. She recalls the unsolved murder of someone she knew in childhood, and returns to the scene. She forgets to buy her husband even an anniversary card. These fresh and sometimes jolting moments drive the book, and I found myself propelled forward less by the killer than by her quest ... I'll Be Gone in the Dark is incomplete, and there are places where this shows: There are repetitions that might have been ironed out and places where tighter editing could have streamlined the narrative. There are certainly holes that she meant to fill, noted by Jensen and Haynes. It is sad that we won’t ever read it exactly as she would have written it. Yet so much is there, which feels like a gift.
...this is a new kind of true crime book, dripping with a deep empathy and an emotional honesty that is rare in any genre ... The book jumps between the present day, the recent past, and the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the way these scraps and fragments are edited together is nothing short of brilliant ... Ultimately, the sense of loss expressed in these pages exists alongside the inspiring drive displayed by McNamara and the many others who worked on the case. As her final work, it’s a complex and heart wrenching note to leave off on, but one I hope she’d be proud of.
McNamara’s obsession with the East Bay Rapist is what drives this book ... Her dogged reporting makes I’ll Be Gone in the Dark both hard to read and hard to put down. The accounts from survivors are nightmarish and the crime scenes of the homicide victims are disturbing.
Although she only dedicated a very short section of the book to a description of her own background, her distinctive, humorous, and very honest voice captures our attention and keeps us fascinated by the person that she was ... By all means, buy this book for the comprehensive information it presents on a serial sexual offender who managed to elude capture almost as an act of defiance as anything else. Read it, though, to hear and appreciate the voice of a writer who cared deeply, who was haunted by these heinous crimes, and who ultimately followed the truth into the darkness, where it remains to this day.
McNamara is unsparing in explaining the killer’s macabre habits, but ethically so, favoring information over indulgence and emotion over gore. She’s also able to perfectly execute the procedural aspect of true crime ... Part 3—effective as it is—can’t quite compensate for the loss of her voice. And yet this is all part of what makes I’ll Be Gone such a singular, fascinating read. It’s lifelike in its incompletion. Had McNamara lived to wrap this book on her own, one suspects the end result could have been a masterwork. It still is, mostly—a posthumous treasure that feels thrillingly alive.
After she died suddenly in 2016, the book was finished by piecing together her articles, notes, and taped interviews. Though this makes for occasionally disjointed reading, it’s a small distraction from McNamara’s impressive gifts for language and storytelling. Her work paints a picture of not just a killer but of the towns and lives, including hers, that were irrevocably altered by the horror he inflicted.
The case itself is fascinating, frustrating and complex, but the real beauty in this book is McNamara’s writing. She is sensitive to the victims (especially the female victims), never fetishizing the details of sexual assault or murder ... Her writing flows beautifully and hypnotically, and the narrator, Gabra Zackman, does an amazing job.