In the 1970s, the East Area Rapist terrorised California by committing 50 rapes. His crimes had escalated from peeping to burglary until he began threatening women, tying them up and attacking them. They escalated again when he chose victims whose male partners were present. Later, after his crimes took a deadlier turn when he murdered twelve people, he was known as the Original Night Stalker. McNamara coins her own name for him, The Golden State Killer.
Putting together decades of history in a readable, easy to follow manner is no easy task. And yet Michelle McNamara makes it seem so. Her writing appears effortless. It is inviting in an almost disturbing way. I was eagerly following along on her journey, even though that journey is filled with horror. About three pages in I was already freaked out. A crime of opportunity is one thing. A rapist who scopes out the place beforehand, getting to know his victims in incredibly personal ways, learning the layouts of the homes…it’s nightmarish. I wanted to add extra security to my house. Maybe hire an armed guard.
It would be easy to get lost in all the information presented, especially given how many attacks the East Area Rapist committed. How the investigations between the EAR and the Original Night Stalker were connected. The sheer volume of evidence. The victims. The witnesses. And yet it never feels overwhelming. It is presented as a coherent whole. Except of course it’s not whole.
You can’t talk about the book without also talking about Michelle, who is so present throughout it’s like being walked through tragedy by a friend. Michelle died in her sleep in April 2016. She left behind a husband and young daughter. Her husband, the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, was determined to see the book completed in Michelle’s voice as much as possible. He worked tirelessly with her editors and others to give us the book we have now. I can only say I am glad that he did, and I think he succeeded. So we are left with editor’s notes trying to explain any missing pieces or Michelle’s thought processes, and a Part Three that is written by others involved in the case. They’ve worked with Michelle over the years trying to solve this mystery, but they do not attempt to replicate her voice or writing style, and for this I was glad. I don’t think anyone could, and I expect it would have been jarring.
It’s an unsolved mystery that comes with a lot of sadness, both from the victims of this perpetrator who have never seen justice, and from the loss of Michelle, who will never get to see the success of her book, or the capture of the man who kept her up at night. I am hopeful for her that he is one day found, and as she says, brought into the light.