I Should’ve Stayed in the Dark


For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

TW: graphic depictions of rape/assault/murder

In the age of watching (or binging) True Crime shows, movies and documentaries, I had every intention to opt-out of reading about them too. But, alas!

I listened to this via audiobook and for the first time in a while, I think I would’ve prefered to read it physically. Even given the nature of the content, it was a compelling read if only for the fact that the memoir direction (for both the killer and the author) of the narrative lent itself to a fuller experience for the reader. However, the details did seem to blur at times – given the large number of crimes committed – and the extensive details did not always serve for readability.

Nonetheless, this book is uncomfortable in all the ways it should be. The details from the investigation through Michelle’s involvement were addictive, a protagonist of sorts of her own mystery thriller.

All in all, it was a disquieting read that somehow wasn’t as memorable as I expected.

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