Kristina's Reviews > I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
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it was ok
bookshelves: crime, disappointing, got-rid-of, my-book, non-fiction, want-my-money-back

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara is a book that should not have been published. Much of the book—if not most of it, I’m not going to do a mathematical analysis—is pieced together notes, lists of her notes, a few emails of mundane correspondence, a reprint of her extensive “to do” list, and selections from her blogs and a previously published article: “In the Footsteps of a Killer” (Los Angeles Magazine). My distinct impression is this book was not only rushed to publication after the author’s death in 2016, but it is a sentimental publication, a kind of literary memorial to Michelle McNamara by her husband, Patton Oswalt, and her friends. McNamara spent much of her life (a sad and physically/emotionally unhealthy amount of her life) obsessed not just with the Golden State Killer (GSK), but with serial killers of all kinds. It seems to me that Oswalt didn’t want the years she spent dwelling in the violent and bloody wreckage left by the GSK to go to waste, so he (along with her friends and assistant researchers) pulled his wife’s unfinished manuscript into some kind of coherent form and managed to get it published. Probably not difficult with Oswalt’s connections in Hollywood. While I can sympathize with his desire to do this, the published book is not a complete and finished book and does not display his wife’s research and writing talents to their fullest.

I was vaguely interested in this book before the GSK was caught, but added it to my TBR list only after reading a very well-written Goodreads review. I figured I’d eventually borrow it from the library. Then the GSK was caught and I was curious to see how much of McNamara’s theories (and years of detective work) were helpful in identifying the man eventually arrested, Joseph James DeAngelo, so I bought the book. Of course, I regret spending the money. If publishers (and reviewers) had owned up to the fact that the original manuscript was unfinished and editors had to supplement the text with reprinted parts of her blogs and a previously published article, I would have passed on the book and just read the blogs and her LA Magazine article. The best part of the book is the first 63 pages, probably because it’s the only part of the book that was actually finished. After that, many sections are preceded with an editor’s note telling the reader that essentially, the author didn’t write it. There’s a very long italicized editor’s note on page 122 that I find amusing in a pissy-I-wasted-my-money-on-this-book kind of way. The editor wants the reader to know that the Ventura investigation is very complex and full of fascinating twists and turns and McNamara got her hands on boxes and boxes of case files and although she had read much of it (and it’s implied that she also had tons of notes), she died before any of this information could be “weaved into the narrative.” But, if you really want to read about it, go dig up a series of articles published in the Ventura County Star in November of 2002. That’s ridiculous. Again, I bought this book expecting to get this information, not to be told to go somewhere else and read about it. If the publisher had given book buyers a head’s up about the unfinished quality of the manuscript and buyers beware, then fine. But they didn’t.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a great title. Unfortunately, the book suffers in quality and coherence due to it being extensively pieced together from various other sources. Who knows how the author would have eventually organized the finished manuscript, but the killer’s timeline as presented in the book is disjointed and confusing. It zips back and forth between times and locations. The GSK crimes are complex and escalate from minor infractions (burglary and ransacking of homes) to rape and murder. It would have been more helpful to have the information presented in a timeline that traced his development into a serial killer. Instead, facts and case details are repeated, theories are repeated, and sections stop abruptly when it seems the editors ran out of facts to string together and pass off as coherent narrative. Even though McNamara coined the term “Golden State Killer,” which is what he is known as today, the book confusingly refers to him as the EAR (East Area Rapist) and ONS (Original Night Stalker) and sometimes as EAR-ONS. If the book had been organized better, those terms could have been introduced and discarded as it became clear that they were the same person, the GSK.

The book does include a section of photographs of some of the victims, the investigators, police sketches and the “mad is the word” journal writing found by a detective. The photograph is a good one and the “essay” can be read (its author clearly had problems). Later in the book, the two researchers who took over writing the book from the author discuss using familial DNA and possibly finding the killer through his relatives on genealogy websites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe—which is exactly what happened. Despite the book’s overwhelming shortcomings, it is fascinating to see (now that the killer’s identity is known—allegedly) how close some of the investigators’ and McNamara’s theories came close to reality and which ones were way off. Geographical profiling conducted by the book’s researchers (and co-authors, really) puts the GSK’s residence in Sacramento County, possibly in the Carmichael, Citrus Heights, and Fair Oaks area. Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested at his home in Citrus Heights.

I just read an article about Patton Oswalt championing his wife’s book and proclaiming that the book (and his wife) helped capture GSK. He says basically the same thing on an Instagram posting. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones disputes this, saying that while the book and McNamara’s research (obsession) reignited interest and brought in tips, no facts or theories presented in the book led to the capture of GSK. I agree with this. McNamara’s research is for the most part based on information she received from (where?) the case files. She herself even says that she’d get really excited about a new theory, research the hell out of it and then present it to Paul Holes, an investigator who’d been on the case—officially and not—for decades. Holes would then congratulate her for her insightful thinking and excellent research…then tell her that theory had been investigated years ago and discarded as a dead end. This happened a lot. Holes is quoted in the book as describing McNamara as a detective partner, but only so far as her fresh eye on old facts and her energy kept his dedication to finding the GSK’s identity energized. His quotes, by the way, sound an awful lot like a eulogy (314). McNamara, as a private citizen in no way legally or professionally qualified to investigate the GSK, received a great deal of case file information from the police. On page 310, Michelle and Paul (her lead researcher) were granted permission by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to examine a stunning amount of accumulated information while being supervised—but then borrow whatever they wished. With that kind of loose permission, McNamara and Paul loaded up two SUVs with over thirty-five boxes of case files. While I’m all for transparency in police investigations, I seriously question the wisdom of allowing this woman—a true crime blogger—access to so much original material. I mean, she took it home. Isn’t that some kind of violation, legal or otherwise?

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a published book of an incomplete manuscript and odds and ends of previous writings, notes, lists, emails and the confession (286) of two other writers/researchers that well, we tried to finish Michelle’s book, but we can’t, so here’s a write up of the theories she was working on when she died. It’s unfortunate that Michelle McNamara died unexpectedly, leaving behind the bones of what could have been an engrossing, fascinating and well-written account of how her life became entwined with and burdened by the horrific crimes of a serial rapist and murderer who hadn’t been active in over two decades. While the investigation into GSK would have been compelling reading, the true story would have been the author’s tale of forgetting wedding anniversaries, forgoing social activities with friends and family and her gradual descent into this tragic obsession with violence and death.
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Reading Progress

April 25, 2018 – Shelved
April 25, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
May 5, 2018 – Started Reading
May 5, 2018 –
page 99
30.18% "Much of the book is unfortunately not written by the author, but consists of sections of a previously published article and research and notes stitched together by other researchers/writers. It does affect the flow and quality of the book. Also, it seems to me that McNamara was a deeply troubled woman whose obsession with death and violence was unhealthy in the extreme."
May 6, 2018 –
page 155
47.26% "If I had known that the author had died before writing the vast majority of this book, I wouldn't have bought it or even bothered to read it. The timeline is disjointed and there's a chapter that ends abruptly with an editor's note saying, well, Michelle had a whole lot of info for this chapter but died before she could even begin organizing it but go ahead and find this article and read it. WTF."
May 11, 2018 –
page 258
78.66% "I'll be glad when I've finished this, hopefully this weekend. This is not a finished book."
May 12, 2018 – Shelved as: crime
May 12, 2018 – Shelved as: disappointing
May 12, 2018 – Shelved as: got-rid-of
May 12, 2018 – Shelved as: my-book
May 12, 2018 – Shelved as: non-fiction
May 12, 2018 – Shelved as: want-my-money-back
May 12, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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Nancy I’m at 58% and all these “notes” but not final copy are so disjointed and, frankly, boringly repetitive. Where was the editor? Your review is how I feel. The beginning sucked me in and now I feel like I’m in quicksand trying to get out.


Kristina Nancy wrote: "I’m at 58% and all these “notes” but not final copy are so disjointed and, frankly, boringly repetitive. Where was the editor? Your review is how I feel. The beginning sucked me in and now I feel l..."

I hate to tell you but the editor is probably who inserted all the notes. Because the author died before she had even completed 50% of the manuscript (my estimate based on how much of it is preceded by an editor's note), readers are left with this rather unfinished manuscript that's poorly organized, repetitive and sometimes, yes, boring. I'd say stop now if you really aren't liking it and wait a few years for another (fully completed) book to be written. I'm sure someone's out there now already writing it.


message 3: by Halle (new) - added it

Halle Very thorough and excellent review!


Kristina Halle wrote: "Very thorough and excellent review!"

Thank you!


Mizuki I am reading it and I agree with you.


Kristina Mizuki wrote: "I am reading it and I agree with you."

I regret purchasing it. I did so right after the (alleged) killer was caught in California and so I wanted to read the book ASAP. If the author had lived, it probably would have been a good book. As it is, it's a mess.


message 7: by Mizuki (last edited Sep 03, 2018 08:47AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mizuki Kristina wrote: "Mizuki wrote: "I am reading it and I agree with you."

I regret purchasing it. I did so right after the (alleged) killer was caught in California and so I wanted to read the book ASAP. If the autho..."


I ordered this book from the library for the exact same reason like yours-- because the Original Night Stalker got caught......and now I'm reading the book, I'm quite annoyed by how she kept talking about herself and her family instead of the killer and the victims!!!!

By the way, I don't think this book isn't good because the author didn't have time to finish it. I think she wasn't such a great writer in the first place. Perhaps she was familiar with writing blog entries but she doesn't seem to know much about writing a non-fictional book.


Kristina Mizuki wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Mizuki wrote: "I am reading it and I agree with you."

I regret purchasing it. I did so right after the (alleged) killer was caught in California and so I wanted to read the book A..."


While the criminal aspect/police investigations are interesting and I like that sort of thing, I was also fascinated by how she allowed her work--essentially an unpaid hobby--to take over her personal life. That says something to me about her psychological state, that she preferred dwelling with violent death rather than with her friends and family.

Because the author died before she could finish the book, have it edited and then rewrite it, it is not possible to know how she ultimately would have structured the book or polished her prose. The best part of the book is actually the only finished part, the beginning. I found the story compelling and coherent and well-written. If she had lived, it's very probable the flaws I see with the book would have been solved before publication.


Mizuki Kristina wrote: "I was also fascinated by how she allowed her work--essentially an unpaid hobby--to take over her personal life. That says something to me about her psychological state, that she preferred dwelling with violent death rather than with her friends and family. ."

I read the Mindhunter series by this FBI guy (forgot his name) and this guy suffered a heart attack due to work-related stress problem when he was only 37 years old, then he had a drinking problem, then sometime later his wife left him. and a few true crime Youtubers I follow also confessed to having stress problems or depression. so it is correct to say all these true crime business can very much be an unhealthy obsession.

Because the author died before she could finish the book, have it edited and then rewrite it, it is not possible to know how she ultimately would have structured the book or polished her prose.

Perhaps I'm a bit harsher than you, at page 30 I was yelling in my head: "stop talking about yourself already!"


Kristina Mizuki wrote: "Kristina wrote: "I was also fascinated by how she allowed her work--essentially an unpaid hobby--to take over her personal life. That says something to me about her psychological state, that she pr..."

The Mindhunter books are now a series on Amazon or Netflix. I haven't watched them although I hear they are interesting.

Well, I don't know if you are harsher. I guess it depends on what you are interested in. You wanted to know more about the crime but I was okay with hearing about both.


message 11: by Mizuki (last edited Sep 09, 2018 10:41PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mizuki Kristina wrote: "Mizuki wrote: "Kristina wrote: "I was also fascinated by how she allowed her work--essentially an unpaid hobby--to take over her personal life. That says something to me about her psychological sta..."

I saw a bit of the Mindhunter show on Youtube, and it does look great.

PS: I honestly don't think what McNamara had done for the ONS's case is healthy, I mean............even trained cops and FBI agents are known to suffer mental breakdown or other work-related illness after years of subjecting themselves to gruesome cases and details of the victims' suffering. So why would we believe an untrained woman can handle all these graphic details on her own? For the sake of her own health, she should have taken a break.

You wanted to know more about the crime but I was okay with hearing about both.

Perhaps it is the case.



Kristina Mizuki wrote: "Kristina wrote: "Mizuki wrote: "Kristina wrote: "I was also fascinated by how she allowed her work--essentially an unpaid hobby--to take over her personal life. That says something to me about her ..."

She probably should have stepped away from her research. But she couldn't. It was an obsession. That's why I was interested in hearing about her--what made her so obsessed? It was unhealthy and weird and she wasn't getting paid to do any of it and it was affecting her personal life and marriage.


Mizuki Kristina wrote: "That's why I was interested in hearing about her--what made her so obsessed? It was unhealthy and weird and she wasn't getting paid to do any of it and it was affecting her personal life and marriage."

When Youtubers and bloggers are known to suffer depression or mental stress or panic just for researching and making videos about true crime, I understand McNamara and her research really can't be healthy. I mean...how can you read through police case files talking at great length and in great details about 13 years old girl being raped for two hours and married couples being assaulted without being affected by the realization that some people out there can be that sick and evil?


Kristina Mizuki wrote: "Kristina wrote: "That's why I was interested in hearing about her--what made her so obsessed? It was unhealthy and weird and she wasn't getting paid to do any of it and it was affecting her persona..."

I am interested in the minds of people who do these crimes--what motivates them to do these awful things? But at some point, you have to step away because dwelling in darkness for too long can mess you up.


Mizuki Kristina wrote: "I am interested in the minds of people who do these crimes--what motivates them to do these awful things? But at some point, you have to step away because dwelling in darkness for too long can mess you up..."

*nod nods*


message 16: by Bentz4 (new)

Bentz4 Great reviews!


message 17: by Bentz4 (new)

Bentz4 It's a stupid book!


Kristina Bentz4 wrote: "It's a stupid book!"

Thank you, although I don't know if I'd say it's a stupid book. It's an unfinished manuscript of what may have been a great book had the author lived to finish it. The author's husband made an understandable, but sentimental, mistake in rushing it to publication.


message 19: by O (new) - rated it 3 stars

O This is an excellent review.


Kristina O wrote: "This is an excellent review."

Thank you, O.


message 21: by Gali (new) - rated it 2 stars

Gali Valiente Great review and I feel exactly the same - it is an unfinished book that I really doubt if the author would have wanted it that way.


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