I have often thought about what would happen to all of my unfinished stories if I died suddenly and unexpectedly. Ideally, Ashlee, if you’re reading this, I would like you to try and finish them. Even if you don’t publish them, I’d just trust you to end them in a way that’s similar to how I would have done it (but no doubt better as we both know you’re a far superior writer to me).
But in reality it’s a huge and incredibly daunting task. A task undertaken in this instance by Crime writer Paul Haynes, investigative journalist Billy Jensen, and author of this book, Michelle McNamara’s widow Patton Oswalt, who all helped finish the book after her sudden and unexpected death which happened when she was half way through writing this book.
I mean, wow. My stories aren’t about real people. They don’t require rooms full of research to trawl through. They don’t matter in the way that this book matters.
The case of the East Area Rapist – EAR – was a famous one. Although until Michelle’s book was published, and he was subsequently caught, it was one I wasn’t familiar with. But then I’m not from the USA, and he was only prevalent in the areas around Sacramento, hence the moniker. He graduated from being the rapist of more than 50 women and started killing people, but he was still dubbed the EAR or ONS – Original Night Stalker – or sometimes a mix of the two – EAR-ONS – until Michelle dubbed him the Golden State Killer.
She had latched on to this guy’s story, and followed his decades old trail, sometimes literally, following paths he took when he made his escape from his victims houses etc. She spoke to detectives, past and present, who had worked EAR-ONS cases in their various states. I can only describe her level of commitment on this case as akin to Robert Greysmith’s obsession with the Zodiac.
What makes this story even more tragic though is the fact that Michelle never got to find out who he was. All of the years spent researching, following trails, looking for evidence, sifting through boxes and boxes of decades old police files, looking for that one name that was missed, and she never got the satisfaction of looking him in the eye and knowing that was him.
And in many ways that’s what makes this book worth reading. Because we do get to find out who he was, and we owe it to Michelle and her wonderful way with words, to read her hard work that helped get this guy.
A lot of people found this book disjointed, which is to be expected to be fair, it was written by 4 people essentially. But I didn’t find that if I’m honest. It’s only disjointed in the sense that it sometimes isn’t chronological. But I thought the actual writing of the chapters was seamless. The guys did a fantastic job of finishing Michelle’s vision of her novel, and as a writer who has thought about this scenario myself, I think she’d be incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved.
If you have even the slightest interest in real life crimes, serial killers etc, I urge you to read this. You absolutely will not regret it.
It’s also worth noting that I just found this article about 6 true crime books to read if you loved I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. I already read one of them (Zodiac) and I fully intended to read at least one of the other books on this list, so maybe you would like to read them too!