Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Book Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark - Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. A fun true-crime romp that was super engaging but sometimes hard to follow. Felt like the jumping around in time and place was a bit of a mistake, but hey, what the hell do I know. 

Title of the book came out of a quote spoken by the Golden State Killer to one of his victims: "You'll be silent forever, and I'll be gone in the dark." That's some scary shit. Fucking asshole. 

The book is somewhat of a memoir as well as a chronicle of the Golden State Killer (a name she coined), his victims, and his near escapes. It follows McNamara as she goes down the path of seedy crime blogs and forums, which is super dark, but fun (I'm a long time lurker on Websleuths). Has the feel of a cross between Gillian Flynn (who wrote the forward) novel and The Devil in the White City, except all over the place. 

This makes sense considering the book was unfinished when McNamara suddenly died. Patton Oswalt (her famous husband [big fan]), along with her assistant and journalist/Websleuth regular Billy Jensen, put the book together from McNamara's notes and completed chapters (which were in separate files in no particular order). The final product was released two years after she died. 

Meanwhile, whence Oswalt and company were promoting the book, just after the book was released, Sacramento police announced they had arrested a suspect. They arrested one Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former cop, after Sacramento's finest submitted his DNA to one of those family DNA database sites, I'm not sure how I feel about that but that's not really the point here. 

This was right after shooting of Stephon Clark. I know it's hard to keep up with these officers-shoot-young-black-guy stories, but in this one, cops had been looking for a young man smashing windows that, you know, fit this guy's description (I guess). Cutting through yards and with a helicopter searching the area, the police find a black guy on his cellular phone in his grandma's backyard. They light his ass up, saying he had a gun. He did not. The cops also went out of their way to say they were confident that he was the one smashing windows, which was unlikely and doesn't really matter. So, alas, the cops got off, as they do. Mass protests followed. Then, suddenly, the Sacramento PD is like, oh, now's a great time to get in the news for something else, lets run that DNA through 23andMe or whatever. The lady who announced that they caught the guy, one Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento County District Attorney, was the same person who I'd seen a month earlier say that her office would not be filing criminal charges against the police officers that killed this Clark guy who, again, was unarmed and not doing anything. 

Also, they eventually mentioned that McNamara's research was worthless except for keeping people interested. This was obviously bullshit and infuriating. She coined the killer's name which the Sacromento PD used and they offered a $50,000 reward for his capture while she was knowingly gathering information from them for a book. Before then, they called the guy the East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker, and Visalia Ransacker, among other things. In that press conference where they offered $50k, they called him the Golden State Killer. Plus, she talked extensively about submitting the guy's DNA to commercial databases, which was how they eventually caught the guy. Whatever. Glad they caught the guy, but don't be dicks about an amateur sleuth helping out a little bit by thinking outside of the box or what have you. 

For me, the best part of the book is the end. After getting all this information on the EAR, seeing McNamara tracking him down, and knowing the final outcome, it is bitter a pill that she didn't live to see DeAngelo arrested. But seeing the letter she wrote to him, before he was caught, was a touching way to end it. Especially since we know he was ultimately caught. 

Finally, I was flipping through HBO Max and see that this was turned into a docuseries sometime in the summer. Guess I know what I'll be watching over New Year's break. 

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