I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Wow, it’s been a while.

I fell off the blogging wagon pretty hard a few months ago. If I’m being honest, I fell of the reading wagon, too. I was feeling so burnt out in so many areas of my life, and that included this. Everything felt like work, and there was very little joy in it.

So I retreated for a while. I rested a lot. I pursued other interests. I made a lot of changes in my life, starting a new job being a big one. And as I’ve done all of this, I’ve slowly found my way back to my reading life and, by extension, this blog.

Now, I’m finding myself completely engrossed in books again. I’ve also been extremely lucky to find more pockets of time throughout my days to read. One of the perks of my new job is that I don’t start until 10 a.m., giving me much more leisurely mornings that are usually filled with a warm breakfast, coffee and books.

Ah, yes, the books. There have been a few that have helped me find my way back here, but the one I want to talk about today is particularly special: It is the first that inspired me to write again. The others were wonderful and did their part in reigniting my love for reading again, but Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was doubly amazing in that it was an engrossing read that pulled me in and pulled me through without loosening its grip, and it made me think about a lot of things – things that I want to discuss here.

I’ve experienced a blossoming interest in true crime in the last couple years. I was always a fan of mysteries and thrillers (although, I’ve been burnt out on them for a while — see more on that here), and stumbling across the My Favorite Murder podcast only helped expand my interest. It also helped show me that 1.) being interested in true crime does not make you weird or a bad person and 2.) true crime actually opens the doors to lots of important topics and conversations that should be had more in society.

So when IBGITD was released in February, I should’ve been devouring it immediately, right? Wrong. I didn’t know that much about the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist, but I knew enough to know that this was going to be a tough read. And just because I enjoy true crime doesn’t mean I’m also not a scaredy cat who will get freaked out by every weird noise I hear after dark.

I let release day pass, saw all the five-star reviews, and let it be another book that floated into my life and floated out again. Fast-forward to April: THEY FINALLY CAUGHT THE GUY. Again, I didn’t know that much about the GSK, so I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t realize he’d never been caught. But when I started reading the news and hearing the MFM ladies talk about the case, my interest was piqued.

Fast-forward again to earlier this week: I finally pulled the trigger and downloaded the book onto my Kindle. I gave myself two ground rules as I did this: I would bail if the book started to give me anxiety/freak me out/otherwise negatively affect my mental health, and I would only read it during the day.

The latter became really hard to stick to, though, because McNamara’s writing is so good and sucks you in so effortlessly. The book is both a recounting of the GSK’s multitude of crimes and memoir of McNamara’s interest obsession with him throughout her life. She spent years talking to investigators – both the originals and those who came on later, interviewing victims and their family members, reading old files, and following any leads she felt worth following up on. She developed theories, took copious notes, and methodically moved through her own lists of potential suspects. This was a woman on a mission.

What I liked and appreciated about McNamara’s writing was how she handled such gruesome and truly horrible subject matter with grace. She told the victims’ stories respectfully, giving enough detail so that we could appreciate how awful their experiences were. She kept the crimes at the forefront, but she made sure that we saw the victims as people. I think McNamara’s husband said it best in the afterword he wrote for the book: “Michelle always found the perfect balance between the typical extremes of the genre. She didn’t flinch from evoking key elements of the horror and yet avoided the lurid overindulgence in grisly details, as well as sidestepping self-righteous justice crusading or victim hagiography.”

But the most powerful parts of IBGITD, for me, were when McNamara brought things closer to home, when she forces the reader to look inward. Throughout the text, McNamara talks to old witnesses who saw a prowler suspected to be the GSK or had close run-ins with him – saw him peeping in a neighbor’s window, saw an unfamiliar car driving a bit too slowly through the neighborhood, saw something out of place, etc. They saw these things, but they didn’t report them until after he had attacked again. They had a bad or uneasy feeling about the things they saw, but they brushed those feelings away.

Let me be clear: McNamara isn’t blaming these people, and neither am I. But she’s making an important observation: We so often disregard things that make us nervous and uneasy or don’t seem right because we don’t want to cause a fuss if we’re wrong.

But what good is that doing anyone? Yes, that noise might have just been the wind or a stray cat, but do you know for sure? Even if it is, isn’t it worth being sure?

On the MFM podcast, one of their catchphrases from an early episode is “F–k politeness.” I don’t think I truly understood that until now. Don’t let politeness stop you from checking out something that is sketchy or makes you uncomfortable. You can always apologize later if you’re wrong.

And finally, this book has helped me realize how lucky I have been with the neighbors I’ve had in recent years. In my current apartment and the one I lived in before, I have had some extremely kind neighbors who have offered help without being prompted, have kept me in the loop on any neighborhood drama or suspicious activity they’ve noticed, and have just generally watched over me and my boyfriend. I have a new gratitude and appreciation for them.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is worth the read (if you can handle the subject matter; be aware of what triggers/upsets you and proceed accordingly). The book goes beyond the horrific acts of one cowardly man; it explores lives affected and cut too short, celebrates the dogged work of dedicated law enforcement officials, and reminds us to constantly be vigilant – not just for ourselves, but for each other.

Have you read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark? Are you also a true crime enthusiast? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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