...[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.