While admittedly I am a fan of true crime books, it is not often that I marvel at the prose and style of the author as much as I am awed by the content. In many ways this is a really unique book, and I have not yet read a true crime one that sets my heart racing and makes me feel as anxious as I did with this!
The substantive content written by Michelle McNamara is bookended by high praise for her craft, her humility, and above all her unrelenting dedication to finding the man who she coined as the Golden State Killer. Gillian Flynn sets the tone early on with her epic introduction, reminding the reader that consuming true crime should be coupled with a sensitivity for the real lives impacted. In the conclusion we hear from two men who helped piece together Michelle’s notes and bring the book together for publication, as well as closing thoughts from Michelle’s husband. While it is heartbreaking to think that Michelle never lived to see the suspected Golden State Killer arrested, her final words to him in the book are the most perfect final thoughts I’ve ever come across in a non-fiction read!
Now for the pages in between…
Michelle began covering these crimes as a journalist, delving deeper into police reports and any available evidence she could track down. She roamed message boards and discussed with all manner of ‘armchair detectives,’ many of whom had spent considerable personal resources attaining and analyzing valuable evidence. Michelle chronicles her journey in an extremely readable manner, and it is patently evident the time and efforts that she invested in this over the span of her lifetime. At one point towards the end of the book she records that her anniversary gifts from her husband for a few years in a row featured her obsessive search for the Golden State Killer.
Michelle’s writing style is incredibly atmospheric and appropriately chilling, though she balances this with a paramount respect and consciousness of the victims. I found the descriptions of the rape and murder scenes very difficult to read and they have been hard to get out of my mind (don’t do what I did and read this at night when you’re home alone!!). Her style is sensitive and self-aware, and her integrity about respecting the victims is expressly discussed towards the end of the book. She notes one of the investigating officers and a book that he wrote, portraying one of the victims: “His treatment of Kathy is at best wildly tone-deaf and at worst victim blaming.” (p 215) While I would have loved to have heard more of Michelle’s thoughts on this topic, I think her commitment to reporting with integrity speaks for itself.
I’m looking forward to reading more of the contemporary coverage of this case and cannot recommend this one highly enough. Brilliantly written and a terrifying true crime read.