Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders, by Billy Jensen (Review)

Currently listening to: Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders, by Billy Jensen.
(Currently an Audible exclusive! Thank you to @audible for providing a free copy in exchange for a review!)
Jensen first came on to my...
Chase Darkness with Me
by Billy Jensen

Genre: True Crime

Length:

Release date: April 11, 2019

Publisher: Audible Audio

Synopsis: 

Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked. Put together the pieces. Identify the suspect.

Journalist Billy Jensen spent 15 years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common – it didn’t have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops have given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

In Chase Darkness with Me, you’ll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You’ll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle’s pursuit of the Golden State Killer which is chronicled in I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, a book Billy helped finish after Michelle’s passing, and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown 4 family.

Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true crime narrative unlike any you’ve listened to before.

ratingfive

My thanks to Audible for allowing me free access to this audio book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. This audio book is currently an Audible Exclusive. 

True crime can be a touchy subject. What are the ethics of consuming someone else’s tragedy as entertainment? Jensen’s work and the way he works to essentially crowd-source murder investigations means that this book necessarily tangles with some of the thornier ethical questions surrounding true crime. The overall impression is of a man with deep respect for the wishes of families searching for answers about their loved ones; there is no hint of voyeurism or sensationalism.

Chase Darkness with Me explores Jensen’s early work as a journalist, working at the beck and call of news organizations and being told what to cover. After experiencing the shame and discomfort of being pressed to pester a grieving family for an interview, he decided to do things his own way, which would not involve sitting idly on the sidelines. Jensen began digging into unsolved crimes, using social media ads to blast targeted areas with surveillance footage, sketches of suspects, or whatever else he had to work with.  The method is simple but effective. Jensen walks the listener through the twists and turns of the cases he was able to help solve with the aid of the public and social media.

Michelle McNamara, author of I’ll be Gone in the Dark and friend of Billy Jensen, also plays a role in this book. Jensen was one of the writers who helped to complete I’ll be Gone in the Dark from Michelle’s notes after her sudden death in 2016. Chase Darkness with Me touches on Jensen’s friendship with Michelle and his efforts to ensure that her tireless research into the then unsolved case of the Golden State Killer was not wasted. Michelle McNamara unfortunately passed away before police ever made an arrest in the case, but Jensen was able to see his friend’s work come to fruition in 2018 with the arrest of James DeAngelo. (The official stance of police is that Michelle’s book did not have an impact on the case, but Jensen and many of Michelle’s fans have their doubts.)

The book is as much a call to action as it is storytelling, with an addendum outlining the do’s and don’ts for readers who may want to do investigative work of their own. Jensen’s rules place the wishes of the victims’ families at the forefront and also emphasize the importance of backing off when police have a suspect in their sights; the last thing anyone investigating a crime wants to do is give the culprit a heads-up that they’re being watched closely and cause them to run. While extra-judicial investigative work is necessarily controversial, Jensen clearly adheres to a strict set of guidelines which maximize his chance of being an asset rather than a liability.

Chase Darkness with Me is true crime at its best, told with utmost care and compassion for the victims of each case. It’s not true crime writing in the typical sense, as the author has inserted himself into these stories in a much more direct manner than most writers, but I think the writing is stronger for it. Each case is intensely personal to Jensen and this absolutely shines through in the final product.

buy

Amazon | Audible

Thank you for reading! Do you have any thoughts on the ethics of true crime writing? Please share your thoughts in the comments! jennabookish

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

Review – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by Michelle McNamara

35068432
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara

Genre: Nonfiction / True Crime

Length: 352 Pages

Published: February 27, 2018

five

Blurb via GoodReads: 

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

2ca3050a29736eacd78428d090d60efa_400x400Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer. flourish

The last true crime book I read before this was Hunting Charles Manson: The Quest for Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter, by Lis Wiehl, and it left me feeling… unfulfilled. The marketing and blurb suggested a book that was focused primarily on the police work that eventually led to the arrests and convictions of Manson and the other Manson Family members, but that is not what Wiehl delivered. Instead, it felt like she was using the Manson family as a cautionary tale about drug use, going so far as to hint in the author’s note at the end that the legalization of marijuana would inevitably lead to another similar tragedy. In short: yikes.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was everything I had wanted out of Hunting Charles Manson and then some. McNamara successfully avoids one of the major pitfalls of true crime books, which is that they can feel terribly exploitative of the victims. McNamara’s book is imbued with a sense of respect for the victims and an intense desire to bring their tormentor to justice. She does not dangle sordid details in front of the reader in an attempt to horrify and thrill. She makes ample use of pseudonyms for still living victims. Her hatred for the man who committed these crimes in palpable.

At the time of McNamara’s writing, the Golden State Killer had not yet been identified. Consequently, the focus is very much on the evidence available and the police work which had been done to that point, as well as McNamara’s personal efforts in the case, time spent combing over old evidence and going through true crime discussion boards online to look for new leads and ideas. There is a sense of deep personal investment in the case which is contagious.

Joseph DeAngelo was identified as the Golden State Killer and arrested earlier this year, after McNamara’s death and the posthumous publication of her book. The police were able to identify him by comparing DNA samples from crime scenes to commercial DNA databases online, a possible avenue for identification which McNamara explored in her book. The book closes with a letter from McNamara to the killer; there is something eerie but also heart-wrenching about reading it after her death, knowing she did not live to see the monster she was hunting captured.

One day soon, you’ll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out. You’ll hear footsteps coming up your front walk. Like they did for Edward Wayne Edwards, twenty-nine years after he killed Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Like they did for Kenneth Lee Hicks, thirty years after he killed Lori Billingsley, in Aloha, Oregon.

The doorbell rings.

No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell.

This is how it ends for you.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,” you threatened a victim once.

Open the door. Show us your face.

Walk into the light.

This book was incomplete at the time of McNamara’s death. It was completed by piecing together her notes and drawing from her previous work on the subject. Given this, one might expect it to feel sloppy and disjointed, but that is not the case. Those who picked up the pieces to complete McNamara’s work for her did it true justice. Any fan of true crime will want to add this book to their collection.

Order via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Capture