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.
I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane. It was inevitable that I would find Michelle.
So says Gillian Flynn in her introduction to this fascinating book. She is so right about author Michelle McNamara. Her writing is top notch—right up there with Truman Capote in his classic In Cold Blood. So many true crime writers get bogged down in details, so intent on giving the reader every tiny fact that they neglect to tell a story. McNamara goes down the rabbit hole of details regularly, but she doesn’t make the reader accompany her—she sorts things out, investigates tirelessly, then reports her results.
This is as much a memoir of McNamara’s obsession and search for this killer as it is a history of the crimes and investigation. I felt like I got to know her and I liked what I saw. She would have been a fascinating coffee date and I got the feeling that she missed her calling, that she should definitely have been a professional investigator of some kind.
The saddest thing for me about the book was that Michelle died two years too soon to know the identity of the man she was searching for. From her descriptions in the narrative, I was unsurprised that it was Paul Holes who made the DNA discovery. He seems to possess the same investigative drive that Michelle embodied. As for justice, I guess this is a “better late than never” scenario.
The title of the book makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, coming as it does from a line from the criminal himself: “Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.”
If you, like me, tore through this book and wished it was a bit longer, try James Renner’s True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, which provides a very similar reading experience.