Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Books Made Into Movies (page 1 of 9)

Bridgerton: The Duke And I – Julia Quinn

Okay, fine, I’ll cop to it: I’m a basic bitch. I binged the Bridgerton series on Netflix. Twice. And when I saw the book on sale at KMart (with the basic-bitch movie cover, no less!) for twelve bucks, I snapped it up. For those of you who have been living under a particularly large rock, this is a Regency romance series based on the series of books by Julia Quinn. The Duke And I is the first book in the series, focusing on the marital prospects of the eldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne.

Bridgerton - The Duke and I - Julia Quinn - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Bridgerton: The Duke and I here.
(If you use any affiliate link on this page, I earn a small commission and I promise to use it on non-basic purchases in future!)

Julia Quinn has written over two dozen historical romances, with a writing career spanning decades. Originally, she envisioned the Bridgerton books as a trilogy, but the series grew and there are now eight full-length novels (one for each of the children in the fictional family), plus a few extra bits and pieces. She was always very popular among romance readers, but the Netflix adaptation has catapulted her into the mainstream. It premiered just six-ish months ago, and has already been watched by over 82 million households, making it the most-watched-ever series on the platform. Naturally, Quinn saw a corresponding boost in book sales, and her twenty-year-old Regency romance went skyrocketing up best-seller charts.

The Duke And I is set in 1813 (think Austen’s era), in London’s “ton” during “the season”. No shame if you don’t know what that means (I didn’t before I watched/read!): the “ton” was Britain’s high society during the late Regency, and once each year these high-falootin’ folks would gather in the city so that young ladies could make their debut into society (i.e., swan around looking pretty in an effort to snag a husband).

The Bridgertons are a powerful and well-liked family, and a big one at that. The patriarch has passed, but there’s still Mama and her eight (eight!) children, so the house is hardly empty. Their gimmick is that the kids are named in alphabetical order, from oldest to youngest: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth. Daphne is the middle child, but the oldest girl, so the first to make her debut – much to the delight of the ton’s gossip mongers.





Quinn positions Daphne as your typical girl-next-door: beautiful, but “cool” and friends-with-all-the-boys, so none of them want her in the romantic sense. Of course, that’s a disaster, because money and prestige were all tied up in marriage at the time, and the rules of polite society dictate that Daphne must marry before any of her younger sisters can debut themselves. She’s well aware of the weight of expectation upon her slender shoulders, but she’s still got enough self-respect to be a bit choosy.

“[She] wasn’t holding out for a true love match… but was it really too much to hope for a husband for whom one had at least some affection?”

Bridgerton: The Duke And I (page 17)

Enter, the Duke: Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings and notorious rake. He has recently returned to London, but he has every intention of staying above the fray of the ton and living out his days as a confirmed bachelor. Of course, it wouldn’t be called The Duke And I unless there was a meet cute. Here it is: the Duke walks in on Daphne punching an overly-amorous would-be suitor.

They get to talking, and decide to forge ahead with the trope a plan that suits them both: a fake romance! If they appear to be in love and an engagement imminent, Daphne’s stock will rise (make-them-all-see-her-in-a-new-light-et-cetera) and the Duke will be left alone (because obviously all the ladies will be throwing themselves willy-nilly at a bloke with his looks and title, despite the fact that he’s actually a bit of a dick). It works a charm… at first.

All of the local gossip is communicated by the pseudonymously-authored Lady Whisteldown’s Society Papers. It’s a very clever narrative technique used to great effect by Quinn. As she explains herself in the author interview section at the end of my edition, the Papers give her the chance to explain context to reader without having to cram a whole bunch of exposition into the dialogue. Fun fact: in that same interview, she also reveals that she actually had no idea or plan for the true identity of Lady Whistledown when she first started writing the series!





And – I can’t help myself – here we come to the compare-and-contrast part of the review. Naturally, spoilers abound, so look away now if you care.

The Duke And I introduces the Duke’s father’s abuses far earlier than the Netflix series ever did. The latter treated it as a “reveal” later on, once we’d formed a bond with the characters, while Quinn put it all up front in the Prologue. It was a heart-wrenching way for a romance novel to begin, and set a very different tone.

The diversity and representation for which the Netflix series is famous isn’t as explicit in the novel, though. For instance, the Duke – played by Rege-Jean Page in the series, a British-Zimbabwean actor – is described as having “icy blue eyes” and presumably white skin. The sole exception is that of Lady Danbury, a side character who plays a much smaller role in the book, but her use of a cane for mobility is mentioned sensitively and often. (And if you’re going to come down in the comments and have a sook about the Netflix series not being “accurate” because there were people of colour among the gentry, save it. Black people didn’t miraculously appear in England sometime in the 20th century, they were there all along – read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. Plus, if you’re coming to romance novels for “accuracy”, you have bigger problems.)

The Duke gets a lot more narrative time in The Duke And I than he did in the Bridgerton show (and he’d want to, being a titular character and all). The reader is privy to a lot more of his inner world and turmoil than the viewer ever was. That’s nice and all, but personally I kind of liked the element of mystery better – he is an enigmatic love interest, after all. Plus all that narrative space has to edge out something, and I’m sorry to say that Eloise and Penelope’s characters are completely submerged in the book, along with many other side characters and plots. I suppose they all come out in later books, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading that far to find out. As it stands, I missed them.

And, my biggest bug bear: The Duke And I is nowhere near as steamy as the show. I’m sure all the pearl-clutchers are happy about that, but it ticked me off. In the first hundred pages, there was just one reference to an erection. The story revolves around kids and marriage, without all the rooting that made the Netflix series fun. I threw an actual tantrum when – after 274 pages of build up – Quinn threw in a fade to black chapter break on the wedding night! She opened the door shortly after, but still, the momentum was totally lost.

Here’s the weirdest twist: the book leaves a lot more open-ended questions and unresolved plot points than the Bridgerton show (despite the fact that it’s been renewed for a second season, one that will undoubtedly disappoint given that the sexy Duke will not be returning, gah!). All told, I’d say The Duke And I was fine, but probably not worth the twelve bucks I splashed out on it. I haven’t read enough Regency romance to make a call on where it stands in the canon, but if you’re thinking of picking it up because the Bridgerton series hooked you the way it did me, I’d say don’t bother. Save your eyeballs for (yet another) re-watch instead.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Bridgerton: The Duke And I:

  • “Quick reading very entertaining
    .will finish the whole series to see who is Lady Whistledow also the sex of Daphnes” – Xiomara E. Delgado
  • “With the production of the TV Bridgerton the book prices have gone up terribly. Just not fair!” – victoria belin-pauline
  • “I get that it’s problmetic, but it’s a romance book, though. But I wish you new show fans could chill just a little bit?” – Samo
  • “A very light read that may make you blush. Mrs Whistle down is the best part. Content is 18+ with some violence. Did not leave me feeling enlightened.” – CB

Thank You For Smoking – Christopher Buckley

One of my favourite movies of all time is Thank You For Smoking (2005). It follows Nick Naylor, chief spokesperson for a major tobacco lobby, as he tries to convince the world that cigarettes won’t kill you (or, if they do, at least you’ll die with liberty). The thing is, I didn’t even realise it was a book, the 1994 novel Thank You For Smoking, until I scored this copy for $4.99 in a remainder book shop while I was waiting for a train. How basic of me!

Thank You For Smoking - Christopher Buckley - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Thank You For Smoking here.
(And thank you for using one of the affiliate links on this page, while you’re at it!)

Cards on the table: I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with cigarettes for too many years. At the time of reading Thank You For Smoking, it was (mostly) off, and I was hoping this would be the book to help me kick the cancer sticks for good. It’s basically the anti-West Wing: a biting satirical caricature of Washington politics, corporate greed, media spin, and Hollywood bullshit.

The opening line sets the tone:

“Nick Naylor had been called many things since becoming chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, but until now no one had actually compared him to Satan.”

Thank You For Smoking (Page 3)

As in the movie, Nick is a cigarette company flack, and a pretty damn good one (despite his boss’s suspicions otherwise). He’s a scoundrel, through and through, out for chicks and cash and cigarettes – usually in that order, but not always. His offices are just a few blocks from the White House, and he glad-hands with all the bigwigs in town (when he’s not being flown cross-country in his boss’s private jet). He loves his job, and he’ll defend cigarettes passionately to anyone who’ll listen, but deep down he knows he’s only doing it to pay the mortgage. That’s how he sleeps at night.

The supporting players are Nick’s M.O.D. Squad, the friends-cum-support-group whose self-designated moniker stands for Merchants Of Death. Together, they represent the tobacco, alcohol, and firearms industries, and more than one argument breaks out over whose product is the most deadly. All of the lobby groups in Thank You For Smoking have knee-slappingly ironic names and acronyms: the Moderation Council for booze, the Society For The Humane Treatment of Calves for veal, and so on.





Nick’s opposition are the congressmen (the very few of them not on the take) and public health advocates who hold him – and Big Tobacco, by extension – responsible for 1,200 deaths a day. They’ve got righteousness on their side, but it’s no match for Nick’s quick wit and doublespeak. In fact, Nick is so effective in his role that he becomes the target of anti-tobacco terrorists, who paper him with nicotine patches in a showy effort to bump him off. Nick survives, but he’s left with a terrible and apparently life-long distaste for cigarettes – a significant handicap in his line of work. Plus, the FBI suspects that he faked the whole thing to garner sympathy.

Despite his provocative rhetoric on Oprah, Nick knows he’s just plugging holes. The tide is turning against cigarettes. His boss, ever-skeptical of Nick’s media strategy, intimates that he’s one strike away from getting the sack – and that’s before he realises Nick is sleeping with an attractive young reporter who has promised him a favourable profile. Nick’s Hail Mary offering is to fly to Los Angeles and make a deal that would see movie stars smoking on the big screen (and not just the villains and the crazies). After all, product placement works for beer and popcorn, why not cigarettes?

Yes, Thank You For Smoking is funny and fast-paced and just a little farcical. It’s a thoroughly entertaining read. The thing is, reading it reaffirmed all the arguments I’ve ever heard in favour of – not quitting smoking, don’t be ridiculous – not watching the movie before you’ve read the book (or, at least, not reading the book of a movie you’ve enjoyed). I just kept picturing scenes from the (remarkably faithful, it must be said) movie version the whole way through. The laughs just weren’t quite as hearty coming from the page. Thank You For Smoking is a book I probably would have loved-loved-loved otherwise. As it stands, it was just pretty good. I’d recommend it for anyone who has a taste for political satire and a dark sense of humour.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Thank You For Smoking:

  • “Good plot, well told with excellent humor and all loose ends tied up expertly. Just the right length and stopped well in time before it got tedious.” – Kindle Customer
  • “Had to buy this book for a class. I like that it was hard back but when I received the book it had a unique smell to it and I had to leave it outside for a few days to air it out.” – Glen
  • “This was a gift and I didn’t read it. However, I do like Christopher Buckley’s writing and knowing this I’m sure it was great for the intended two smokers.” – Carole Stevens


The Color Purple – Alice Walker

How’s this for an opening line: “You better not never tell nobody but God.” Chills, right? It’s a powerful opener for a powerful book, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It sets the stage for a story told largely through letters to God, from a black woman named Celie. When she starts writing these letters, she is just fourteen years old, and yet she has already seen and experienced a lifetime’s worth of hardship.

The Color Purple - Alice Walker - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Color Purple here.
(Yes, it’s an affiliate link, but all that means is I’ll earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you!)

(To fortify you for what’s to come, here’s a fun fact about my copy of The Color Purple: it was once awarded to Ella S at her Year 7 Speech Night, for Excellence in Mathematics of all things, according to the plate stuck in the front. Wherever she is, hope she’s still kicking the quadratic equation’s arse!)

Celie’s story begins, as I said, with her at fourteen years old, living in poverty and lacking any real education. Her story begins in the American South (Georgia, it would seem) in the early half of the 20th century. As if all of that weren’t enough – trigger warning! so many trigger warnings! – she has also been beaten and raped (repeatedly) by her father, Alphonso. She became pregnant, twice, and as far as she knows Alphonso has killed their children. The abuse at the hands of her father, and just about every other man in her life, has left her with very little self-worth or belief, aside from that which she finds in her letters to God. The dialect in which she writes takes a little getting used to at first, but no more so than books like Huck Finn.

The bright spot in Celie’s life is her younger sister, Nettie – a beautiful, clever, and brave girl whom Celie will protect from their father at all costs. An older man (identified only as Mister) comes sniffing around, looking for a bride. Alphonso refuses to let him take Nettie, and Mister begrudgingly accepts Celie instead (he needs someone, desperately, to care for his children and keep his house, ugh). Unfortunately, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for Celie, because as Mister’s wife she experiences only more abuse and degradation.





Not long after, Nettie runs away from home. She and Celie know she could never be safe at Mister’s house (he does, after all, still have his rapey eye on her), so Celie recommends she seek out a wealthy stranger she once met in passing to help. Unbelievably, this works, and Nettie joins their household and their missionary trip to Africa. Nettie promises to write, but when Celie never receives any letters, she concludes that her sister must be dead.

About a third of the way through The Color Purple, we’re introduced to the third central character: Shug Avery, a jazz singer and long-time mistress of Mister (whom she calls Albert, weird). When she falls ill, Mister takes her in to be cared for (i.e., by his wife, Celie) until she’s well enough to go back to work. Little does he know, he’s tying his own noose: Celie and Shug fall in love.

Shug is basically everything Celie wishes herself to be: brave, free, talented, beautiful, and worldly (in every sense). Their relationship strengthens and deepens over time, and eventually Celie elects to move away from Shug, abandoning her arsehole husband and his rotten kids. Through Shug, she also learns that her sister Nettie is not dead after all: Mister has been hiding her letters, she is alive and well in Africa, and Celie clings to hope that one day they will be reunited. And I suppose that’s about as far as I can get into describing the plot without getting too spoiler-y…





It actually took me a while to work out when exactly the events of The Color Purple were taking place. Given that the majority of the action occurs in isolated rural areas, and things have been so shitty for women of colour for so long, it could’ve been just about any time since the American Civil War. Towards the end, however, characters started alluding to a(nother) world war, which puts the timeline between 1910 and 1940. I actually liked the timeless quality, with Walker’s focus on the immediate and the minutia of character. It made the story more universal, more ingratiating to readers in the present.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that, with all the God talk and letters that are basically prayers, that this is a religious novel. Walker says in her preface that “this is the book in which I was able to express a new spiritual awareness, a rebirth into strong feelings of Oneness I realised I had experienced and taken for granted as a child,”. That said, The Color Purple isn’t evangelical or preachy at all. I found it totally accessible and relatable, even as a lifelong atheist. Celie explicitly starts to doubt the “official” version of God (as organised Christian religion would have us believe) about halfway through the novel, and comes to the remarkably progressive conclusion that “god” is in everything. Her last letter is addressed: “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.”

The core message I took away from The Color Purple was not, despite the impression I might have given, “doesn’t life suck for people of colour”. Instead, it was to marvel at the strength and power of relationships between women. It is through her relationship with Shug, and her persistent belief in the strength of her bond with Nettie, that Celie is able to overcome all that oppresses her. The women in her life are a salve to the wounds inflicted by men and their violence, as Celie herself is a salve to the wounds inflicted on the women she loves. So, despite the rather traumatic and depressing content, the “feel” of The Color Purple is more hopeful and uplifting than you might expect.





The Color Purple was first published in 1982, and went on to win both the National Book Award For Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction in 1983 (making Walker the first black woman to win the latter). It has retained its cultural currency in the intervening decades – so much so that it continues to be banned and challenged in schools and libraries, which seems to be a rite of passage for any meaningful work of literature. Common reasons for scrapping it from reading lists include the explicit sexual content, language, violence, and lesbianism (the horror! *eye roll*). It appeared on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009.

There has been a very successful movie adaptation (with Oprah!), and a musical adaptation too, but I actually don’t feel all that inclined to seek either of them out. I feel like the power of the story comes from Celie’s telling of it, in words on paper, and I’m not sure it could translate onto screen or stage. All told, The Color Purple is a brilliant and very moving work of art, one well worth a read (and probably at least one or two re-reads, come to that).

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Color Purple:

  • “Life is uncertain and people are generally bad and good. When you can, do the things that make you happy.” – Kelly
  • “The book was a lot like the movie but different.” – N. Keith
  • “It was very disheartening for to see this book be ruined so with the perversion of lesbianism. Otherwise, it would have been a very good book. It was informative and interesting, but very disgusting because of the sexual perversion of lesbianism.” – Ecclesia
  • “incredible sorrry” – jessica Utley


Julie and Julia – Julie Powell

Julie Powell’s life in the early ’00s was a bit of a bummer. She was working a dead-end secretarial job, fielding the public’s suggestions for a Ground Zero memorial. She was diagnosed with PCOS and, given that she was nearly thirty, the pressure to produce a child (from all corners: familial, professional, and internal) intensified. On the verge of existential crisis, she did what so many of us do: she sought out a Project, and she found it in her mother’s battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Julie And Julia is her memoir, based on her blog, about her year of cooking dangerously.

Julie And Julia - Julie Powell - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Julie And Julia here.
(Yes, this is a paid link, because that’s how us bloggers scratch out a living before we get multi-million dollar book deals and movies starring Meryl Streep.)

It’s the contemporary domestic equivalent of a herculean feat: 524 recipes, in 365 days. What’s more, Powell only had one tiny apartment kitchen to work in, not to mention an aversion to eggs and no bloody idea where to buy offal or marrow bones. Naturally, mishaps and misadventures ensue.

Powell started the project in August 2002, when blogs were still new, mysterious little rabbit-holes of the internet where one could build a large following relatively quickly if they were doing something no one else was blogging about. Her mother thought she was crazy, and most of her friends did, too – thoughts that Powell doesn’t mind repeating for the reader, and huffing about at length (but after all, as Anne Lamott said, “if people wanted you to write nicely about them, they should have treated you better”). Her only steadfast supporter is Eric, her husband, but even he blanches at some of the more adventurous recipes, and his patience is tested by Powell’s frequent cooking-induced melt-downs.

As she tells her own story, in chronological episodic form (not unlike a blog), Powell weaves in imagined scenes from Julia Child’s life. Drawing on biographies, letters, and photographs, she paints a very rosy picture of Julia’s romance with her husband, Paul, and how she came to love French cooking. These are decorative touches, however; Julie Powell is the meat of the story, Julia Child just the garnish.



In other reviews and articles, a lot has been made of what Julia Child herself thought of Powell’s project (in sum: she wasn’t a fan, really). I’m kind of disappointed that so much focus has been trained on that one aspect of this quite-remarkable story. I find it much more interesting to look at what drew Child to cooking initially, and what parallels can be found in Powell’s experience.

Child, for instance, didn’t learn to cook until the age of 37, and once she’d figured it out (graduating from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, no less), she set about spreading the word. She published Mastering The Art Of French Cooking in service of teaching the average “servantless” American to cook like a gourmet chef – or, to put it more simply, she made high-falootin’ food accessible.

Isn’t that essentially what Powell has done with Julie And Julia, too? Granted, she’s not teaching us how to cook (she just barely includes a single recipe, it’s not a cook-book after all), but she is making it feel like an achievable goal at least. Before reading Julia And Julia, I would have felt more comfortable skydiving than attempting any fancy-pants French cooking. I’m not one of those can’t-boil-water types, but my idea of a hearty home-cooked meal is more bangers-and-mash than boeuf bourguignon (in fact, I even had to Google how to spell the latter, twice). Seeing that Powell, like me, didn’t have all the tools or know-how when she started off and still she gave it a go… well, “inspirational” is a gross word, but it instilled a little confidence. I even went out and bought a leek.

What’s more: both Julie and Julia are unafraid of admitting their mistakes. Granted, Julie might drop a few more f-bombs, but they both hasten to reassure readers that cock-ups are a natural part of learning to cook. As Julia once said, “If you’re alone in the kitchen, what does it matter – who’s there to see you?”.



I don’t want to mislead you, though: Julie And Julia is just as much about marriage and existential dread as it is cooking. Powell weaves in memories of her childhood and youth, hopes and fears for her future, making the story more comprehensive than just a single year in her life with one ambitious project as its focus. I think that was a good call, on her part, preemptively answering our desire for authenticity in such accounts and saving us from a repetitive cooking procedural (if that’s what you’re after, seriously, go find a recipe book).

Of course, not long after publication, Julie And Julia was adapted to a film of the same name, starring Meryl Streep(!) as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Powell. I watched it once, years ago, and I can’t say I remember much, other than it was good and funny and Meryl Streep was brilliant. I’ll have to watch it again, soon. In doing some Googling for this review, I learned that it was actually the last film written and directed by Nora Ephron before she died, which makes it extra-special.

So, final verdict: I liked it. Sure, Powell’s snarky sense of humour and tendency towards histrionics won’t be to everyone’s taste, but what is? Julie And Julia is a good, quick read that – if you’re anything like me – will inspire you to pick up the tongs instead of ordering UberEats for the fourth night in a row. If it doesn’t sound like it’s up your alley, that’s fine, because I’m going to share with you the single most important take-away of the whole book: put more butter in everything. Seriously. That pat of butter you normally use? Double it.


I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – Michelle McNamara

When my dear friend Cathal handed me a copy of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, I literally squealed with delight. I’d been desperate to read it ever since I did my initial binge-listen to every episode of the My Favorite Murder podcast (reminder: I reviewed the hosts’ joint memoir Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered, also a gift from Cathal, here). But I exercised some restraint, and held onto it until I felt I really… “needed” it. That’s the definition of adulthood, isn’t it? Delayed gratification? Okay, maybe it’s a bit whacky that my gratification comes from a gritty true crime novel, but whatever. I am what I am, and what I am is a true crime junkie. I’ve made my peace with it.

The back-cover summary for I’ll Be Gone In The Dark promises “a masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade – from Michelle McNamara, a gifted journalist who died tragically while still writing and researching her debut book”. It also features glowing endorsements from Stephen King and Gillian Flynn, once again lending credence to the idea that the truth can be stranger (and better) than fiction.

The story of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has received almost as much attention as the crimes it covers. It all began with McNamara’s blog (True Crime Diary, still online here), and an article she wrote for the LA Times in 2013. At that time, the series of rapes and murders attributed to the Golden State Killer were still a decades-old cold case, with files stretching across multiple jurisdictions and decades. McNamara sadly died, aged just 46, with the manuscript of this book only two-thirds done.

It was completed after her death by the lead researcher and a close colleague (Paule Haynes, and Billy Jensen), and her husband (Patton Oswalt) wrote a touching afterword in her honour. These contributors added footnotes to clarify or expand upon what McNamara had written before her death, rather than editorialising in an attempt to produce a “polished” story. They don’t ignore or gloss over McNamara’s passing, and they don’t falsely emulate her style or voice – it’s always clear to the reader what was McNamara’s work, and what was their logical continuation. On occasion, they cobbled together crucial sections from her notes and blog posts, making it clear to the reader that they had done so. I really liked this approach; it seemed more respectful, to both McNamara and the reader, than any alternative. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark was ultimately published posthumously, in 2018, two years after McNamara’s death.





Even though the book is definitively true crime, it has a more literary bent than most offerings you’d find at airport bookshops. It crosses over into memoir at times, with McNamara offering up her own family history to explain how she came to have an interest in true crime and this particular case. It’s not schlocky, sensationalist true crime, but it’s still compulsively readable. It would seem that the one concession the publishers made to the tropes of the genre were the glossy photograph inserts: smiling photographs of the victims and their families, yearbook photos, neighbourhoods where crimes took place, evidence bags, and police sketches.

McNamara doesn’t shy away from her own role in bringing the case to worldwide public attention; she’s not braggy, but she doesn’t downplay it either. She wasn’t “just lucky”. She, and a group of like-minded armchair detectives, kept the case alive through hard work, persistence, and determination. In fact, it was McNamara who coined the “Golden State Killer” moniker. Prior to that, given that the culprit had undertaken three separate crime sprees with little to connect them, the press had given him three different nicknames (including the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker). The public, understandably, got the impression that these were different perpetrators, until McNamara came along and started connecting dots on their behalf.

The crimes (over one hundred burglaries, at least fifty sexual assaults, and at least thirteen murders) were all committed long before the DNA testing and lab analysis we have today. “By the time DNA testing revealed that crimes previously thought to be unrelated were the work of one man,” McNamara says on page 4, “more than a decade had passed since his last known murder, and his capture wasn’t a priority”. More than eight thousand suspects were investigated as part of the Golden State Killer case, but when McNamara started her blog, the police still had nothing.





It’s near impossible to wrap your head around the magnitude, severity, and sheer volume of crimes committed by the Golden State Killer, and McNamara doesn’t even attempt to lay out the facts of the case(s) in any linear fashion. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would have been to try to capture the scope and relate the details of all of these crimes, because there were just so many – and, being an unsolved case with no leads at the time of writing, it’s not like there were trial documents or police interviews to verify information against. McNamara and her publishers helpfully included, in the front of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark a timeline, a map, and – most importantly, in my view, a list of victims and investigators. That’s something I wish we saw more in true crime: front-and-center focus on victims, and the people who work to bring them justice.

That said, the title is drawn from a threat the killer made to one of his early victims:

“… a man in a leather hood entered the window of a house in Citrus. Heights and sneaked up on a sixteen-year-old girl watching television alone in the den. He pointed a knife at her and issued a chilling warning: ‘Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark,’.”

Page 60-61

Still, because the killer hadn’t been identified at the time of writing, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by default avoids exploiting the victims or overtly revering the serial rapist and murderer (the way that true crime books about, say, Ted Bundy, tend to).





I’ll Be Gone In The Dark topped the New York Times Best Seller List for non-fiction, and remained there for fifteen weeks. HBO subsequently purchased the film rights, and a six-part documentary series was released earlier this year. But, of course, the big clincher is this: since the time of publication, the Golden State Killer has been caught. His identification and arrest was controversial, as it occurred through the use of DNA evidence matched against samples provided to a genealogy website. What’s even more stunning is that McNamara foresaw this: in I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, her notes point to her intention to find a way of running the killer’s DNA through 23AndMe or Ancestry.com.

Obviously, there are all kinds of scary ethical questions raised by this type of investigation, but I won’t explore them here. All I’ll say is, just this once, I’m glad it worked. The culprit has been sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, after pleading guilty to multiple counts of murder and kidnapping (he cannot be charged on counts of rapes he committed in the 1970s, as the statute of limitations has passed – boo to that!).

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, though, concludes with a letter from McNamara to the then-unidentified killer. In it, she personally implores him to step into the light. It gave me literal goosebumps – and I still can’t help but wonder what went through his mind when he read it (as he undoubtedly has).

I’ve heard some readers complain that reading I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is less captivating now that the “case is solved”. I would argue that, if that’s the case, you’re reading it for different reasons than I am. I read this book to learn about a woman’s pursuit of justice, to understand the horrors wrought upon the women who were victimised by one terrible man, to get some insight into how fifty years can go by without an answer being found. I’m not here to gawp at a cold case (and if you are, no worries, there are plenty of other true crime books out there for you). But if you’re anything like me, if any of those motives sound more appealing to you than simple scares and shock factor, then I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is the book for you, as it was for me.

I don’t often include plugs at the end of my book reviews, but given the nature and content of this one, I feel it’s warranted. U.S. Keeper Upperers, I know there’s a lot of you – consider throwing some support towards End The Backlog, who aim to eliminate the atrocious backlog of untested rape kits across your country and prevent such a backlog from ever building up again. For Keeper Upperers elsewhere, look into your local or state-based sexual assault support services, I’m sure they could use your backing, too!

My favourite Amazon reviews of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark:

  • “This book legit gave me nightmares. 10/10 would recommend.” – Justin Marshal Kirkpatrick
  • “I don’t understand the reviews for this book. I found it to be dull and boring. My favorite true crime books read like a novel. This book is stale and full of percentages.” – siansays

« Older posts