Michelle McNamara was a respected true-crime journalist, who also was married to comedian Patton Oswalt. When she died unexpectedly in 2016, she was working on a book about the harrowing case of the Golden State Killer. Not wanting her 3,000 documents of research, and untold hours of toil on the unsolved case to be lost, Oswalt turned to researcher Paul Haynes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to help finish the book. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is now available, and by all accounts fantastic. But you don’t need to have read it yet to appreciate the latest episode of the popular true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder. There, hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark MC a Q&A with Oswalt, Haynes, and Jensen about McNamara’s new and final book.
For those unfamiliar with My Favorite Murder, it’s a comedy podcast where two friends share true-crime tales that are often horrific. And yet, they manage to find the humor, or more accurately they allow us to look into the smirking darkness and laugh back in defiance.
For this episode, the typical, casual couch-chat format is totally discarded, and it’s not explained right away what you’re listening to. At first, I assumed it was another live episode, where this charismatic couple opens up their intimate exchanges and dark fascinations to a live audience in a packed auditorium. But it’s soon—though awkwardly—explained this unusual episode was recorded at a bookstore event to promote I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, fitting as the first-ever MFM ep focused on its sinister subject. On one level, episode 115 (“I’ll Be Gone In The Dark at Skylight Books”) intended to promote the book and discuss the eerie details of this notorious murderer. But more than that, this is an ode to McNamara, her work, her passion, her vitality. Oswalt’s love for her and “>grief over her passing is so vivid it’s often literally breathtaking. So maybe don’t listen to it while grocery shopping. People may stare when you gasp as if you’ve seen a mouse….or so I’ve heard.
Throughout the episode, Oswalt shares details on how McNamara researched, including how she’d make era-appropriate playlists to help her get into a proper mindset. He shares how working on the book after her death was a blessing and a curse. “It was very bittersweet for me because having the book done,” he explains, “It’s another part of her that’s kind of gone. In a very a sick way, not having the book done—and us working on it—meant she was still here.”
The main meat of the book is “all Michelle’s,” but Oswalt wrote an afterword, which is preceded by Haynes and Jensen’s contribution, which helps map out other evidence. Oswalt also describes reading his late wife’s chapters, which he admitted took him time to face. “I would read a couple of pages,” Oswalt recalled, “And then I would lose my shit, because her voice was right there. Like she was right there. Like I wanted to…go upstairs and tell her, ‘That one paragraph was so good,’ because in my mind, she’s right up there, because her voice is right there. And it all just hit me all over again. It was a very, very difficult, hard process.”
Kilgariff, who was friends with both McNamara and Oswalt, gently cuts in to add, “But also there’s this living document. There’s something very alive about this book…She’s right fucking there on that page. There’s a magic to it.”
“The further she got into this,” Oswalt notes later in the ep, “it became clear that she had a real shot at solving this.” He lamented that even if her work ultimately leads to the identity of this sinister killer, it pains him to realize McNamara will never learn the answer she worked so hard to uncover. Citing another celebrated crime writer, Oswald sighed, “As James Ellroy says, ‘There is no closure.”
For those who want to literally hear McNamara’s voice and thoughts on the case, Oswalt suggests the three-episode, promotional podcast “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark,”. And he has one more piece of advice: Do not read or listen to McNamara’s audiobook at night.
“That’s a HUGE mistake,” he emphasized. “Read it when you’re out hiking in the sunshine with friends and dogs around. Read it in the daytime. I would.”