Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

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Review for "I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer" by Michelle McNamara (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overall, I liked this book. In case you live under a rock, this book details the crimes and investigations into the Golden State Killer, a prolific madman who killed more than a dozen people and raped at least 50 women in the late 70’s and early to mid 80’s in Northern and Southern California. The writer of this book, Michelle McNamara, died in April of 2016 before her book was completed, therefore much of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was completed by editors. McNamara was integral to building new leads for the cases and generating renewed interest, which eventually led to the capture of a suspect in April of 2018.

It goes without saying that this is a very creepy book. The killer often got into his victims’ homes by breaking through windows and sliding glass doors. I have both at my home, so there were times while reading this that I’d get up to check my doors and windows. Just, you know…because. For this reason, I was compelled not to read this book at night, or while I was at home alone. The mood is perfect here, with sections in which the crime scenes are recounted in detail. It’s not exploitative though. McNamara writes with a skill that is careful to show respect to the victims, as well as the police who did what they could do with the resources they had at that time to crack the case.

In the book, McNamara also discusses how she got into crime reporting. As a child, a young girl was murdered and her body left in an alley not too far from her home. From there, she became obsessed crime and reporting on it. Also detailed are the tactics of the killer (he climbs fences, he’s proficient with weapons, he psychologically tortures his victims), speculation into who he is, why he kills, where he lives, and possibly how he will be caught (DNA: which, it turned out was right).

There’s very little bad I can say about this book. The only thing that confused me at times was the number of people involved (victims, times, dates, locations, the cops), even with a cast of characters in the front. Because the story spans decades and crosses counties and regions, however, this was understandable. Also there is a patchiness of the writing and incoherence from one section to the next that’s worth noting, but this is also understandable, given that the author passed away during the writing of this book. Much of the book was culled from notes she left behind and filled in by editors.

There is an upcoming HBO documentary being made with this book at the center. I plan to watch it. Definitely read (or listen) to this, it’s worth your time.

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Review: All God’s Children

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Review for "All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence" by Fox Butterfield (2008 reissue, originally published in 1995)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is fascinating. It’s a shame that the original hardcover edition is out of print and quite hard to find at any library in my city. In the end, I had to order it through interlibrary loan.

Anyway, “All God’s Children” traces five generations of the Bosket family, from their days as slaves in rural South Carolina all the way to Willie Bosket’s incarceration in 1978 as one of the youngest murderers in New York City’s history. At 15 years old, Willie, recently free from a reform school, killed two subway riders in cold blood and shot another. Under the laws of the time, the maximum he could get was 5 years. The public outcry was so great against this that the Juvenile Offender Act was passed later that year, making it possible that children as young as 13 could be tried as adults.

Fox Butterfield uses Bosket’s family history as a way to discuss the history of violence in America. Willie’s great grandfather was a violent man, his grandfather, as well as his father. Details of all of their lives and crimes are given here. He avoids the typical fluff arguments about the causes of violence (poverty, television, etc) and instead characterizes it as something deeply embedded into the fabric of American life, a product of the White slave-holding class, the pre-Civil War South. He also discusses the violence of reform schools and prison institutions whose function is to “correct” violent individuals. Willie believes he is merely the product of these institutions in its grossest form. I can’t disagree.

The amount of research in this book is exhaustive. I commend the author for writing this book. I just wish that it was more available in 2018.