I’ll Be Gone In The Dark -Michelle McNamara (2018) – A Murder They Wrote Review



I have an uneasy relationship with the true crime genre. I’ve mentioned this before and I think it all boils down to one book which so disturbed me – the account of Muswell Hill killer Dennis Nilsen in Brian Masters’ “Killing For Company” (1985). However, a couple of times in the last week I have held a copy of this in my hands and contemplated buying it and re-reading it. (I lent my copy to someone years ago and it never came back). So far I’ve held back the temptation but the reason for Masters’ book shifting back into my focus is this 2018 true crime publication.

I’ve also been thinking about true crime in relation to author Carol Ann Lee whose five star account of the Bamber killings “Murder At White House Farm” has deservedly ascended the best seller lists since the impressive recent ITV reconstruction of the case. When this book came out nearly five years ago I reviewed it and Carol Ann became an early interviewee in my Author Strikes Back Thread. I asked her for recommendations and I was convinced that reading-wise I would begin a true crime spree but this hasn’t happened. However, the on-paper bizarre mash-up of an arson case and a love letter to the public library system Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book” made it into my current Books Of The Year Top 10 but that’s been about it. I only read “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” because friend Louise whose book opinions I very much value (she put both “Count Of Monte Cristo” and “Sanditon” my way) told me this was her Book Of The Year and I highlighted it in my “Looking Around….” Post.

Michelle McNamara’s obsession (and it was an obsession) was an individual who committed around 50 sexual assaults and at least 10 murders in California in a decade long frenzy (mid 1970’s -mid 80’s). Michelle dubbed him “The Golden State Killer” and he featured heavily in her true crime blog before she began to put this work together. She sadly died aged 46 in 2016 before completing the work.

This, unavoidably, does give the book a haphazard sketchy structure which did mean I kept having to refer back to the list of known victims and crime locations. The sheer number of offences and the lengthy period of time the killer was active also made for at times a stilted and repetitive read and affects the flow but I really can’t just judge this on how I feel it read as a book (I was also very aware of a surprising number of linguistic differences with many terms I was unfamiliar with) but the motives behind the work is what makes this extraordinary.

Michelle McNamara over the years became an expert on the case, came to have access to evidence even investigators did not have and pooled much of this vast amount of material for the first time. The thing I just cannot get out of my head as a British reader in 2020 is how was this man not apprehended at the time? There were a wealth of traits and characteristics that led nowhere. It’s hard I suppose for us looking back to what were largely pre-DNA days to appreciate how much luck was needed to solve cases and luck was certainly not with the many investigators. They could not seem to tap into the extraordinary level of planning that must have foreshadowed many of these crimes and the structure of US state policing at the time means evidence was not shared nor links made. If this was fiction we would deem it unbelievable.

Through her determination to unmask the Golden State Killer it is Michelle McNamara herself who shines through this work and it is this which will see it as an important and perhaps ultimately game-changing addition in the realm of true crime writing.


I’ll Be Gone In The Dark was published in 2018 in the UK by Faber & Faber.

The Author Strikes Back – Carol Ann Lee Interview


A Murder They Wrote Special


Today is the publication day for “The Murders At White House Farm”.  I originally reviewed this book last month thanks to a preview copy from Netgalley.  I am absolutely delighted to welcome Carol Ann Lee to take part in my second interview in my Author Strikes Back category.  I am especially happy about this because she has written,  as far as I am concerned, a five star book and as I mentioned in my last but one blog (100th Blog Post – A Review Retrospective) the review has been attracting considerable attention.  In fact, over the last couple of days it has eclipsed the competition to become my most read review.  This does look like it could be one of the big books of the year and so I am thrilled that Carol Ann Lee has found time to respond to my thoughts about the book.


What was it about this particular case which drew you in?

I have very vivid memories of 1985, when I was sixteen, and clearly remember the case in the press – and even more so, the footage of the Bamber funerals on the television news. They were a popular and respected family in the area where they lived and it seemed incomprehensible that their lives had ended in such violence. Over the years, I read the books on the case, watched the documentaries and followed Jeremy Bamber’s campaign to be released through the Appeal Court. There was – for obvious reasons – a great deal said by and about Jeremy but little about the rest of the family. I was particularly drawn to Sheila, and also to June, and wanted to know more about the relationship between the two women. I also felt that it was important to sort the facts from the fiction that has appeared in the media over the years, to speak to those involved in the case, and to give an accurate and sympathetic portrait of the family members. To me, that was also the key to understanding – as far as such a horrific crime is ever possible to understand – what led to the murders.

What has been the response to those affected by the case to the book?

Well, none of them have the read the entire manuscript as yet, although I did send transcripts of the interviews I conducted to everyone who had agreed to speak to me. It’s such an emotive case and so much has been wrongly reported, that I wanted all those involved in the book to feel reassured that I would not misrepresent them. Reading through their transcripts also led to further discussion. Some of those interviewed only agreed to work with me on the understanding that they were not named in the book and of course I’ve kept to that. But I am very grateful to have been able to interview them and others who were willing to be named yet had not been interviewed before – for instance: Sheila’s psychiatrist, her best friend, the pathologist who worked on the case, and senior investigating officer Mike Ainsley.

I’m an infrequent (and slightly nervous) true crime reader.  What would you say are the essential books in this genre?

The ones which have impressed me most are:

Bernard Taylor’s Cruelly Murdered: Constance Kent and the Killing at Road Hill House, one of the first true crime books I read. Although Kate Summerscale’s book is brilliant in its own right, Cruelly Murdered remains in my memory most, particularly for the quality of the author’s research.

Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. It has one of the most chillingly memorable opening lines imaginable and the rest follows on from there.

Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan’s Shadows. The story of Lucie Blackman’s murder is meticulously told, opening up a different and very frightening world to the reader.

Gitta Sereny’s two books on the Mary Bell case – particularly the second, Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell – generated a great deal of controversy at the time of their publication, but make for uncomfortably compulsive reading.

My last two choices are not books themselves but sections within books: firstly, There’s Only One Yorkshire Ripper in Joan Smith’s Misogynies is acutely perceptive and genuinely gave me sleepless nights, and secondly, in Stet: An Editor’s Life, Diana Athill’s memories of meeting Myra Hindley with a view to assisting with her autobiography was also keenly insightful.








Something I think you do very well is conveying a case of thirty years ago and really getting the sense of the summer of 1985.  In terms of policing and the handling of the case in the media how do you think things would be different if it took place today?

Thank you – I did want to imbue the book with a sense of place and time to make it more ‘immediate’ for readers. Sadly, I’m not convinced that Sheila would fare any better in the media today than thirty years ago, given the sort of graphic and salacious reporting in some (but by no means all) sections of the print and online press. Policing has changed though, partly in response to the Bamber case as is explained in the book, so the initial analysis would hopefully be more cautious than it was generally in 1985.

What’s next for Carol Ann Lee?

I’ve begun researching a book about a 1970s case that’s been with me since I was very young; it’s the first thing I ever remember reading about in a newspaper and is an almost unbelievable story of horror and heroism. It gripped the headlines for a very long time, and even changed the British legal system, yet there has never been a single book about it and the case is almost never mentioned, not even online. 


I would like to thank Carol Ann very much for her enthusiastic response to my questions and to remind you that “The Murders At White House Farm” is now available to buy as a hardback of as a Kindle edition by following the link to Amazon.co.uk.  It can also be purchased from the publishers’ website.  The links should take you directly to the book. The hardback is published by Sidgwick and Jackson.  I would also like to thank Laura at PanMacmillan for her help in linking me up with Carol Ann.

PanMacmillan Publisher’s Site


More about Carol Ann Lee

Yorkshire born Carol Ann grew up in Cornwall.  She became fascinated by the life of Anne Frank and was instrumental in getting an Anne Frank exhibition to Truro Cathedral.  This led to a research grant from the Prince’s Trust to interview surviving friends and family of Anne Frank and the publication of her first book “Roses From The Earth: The Biography of Anne Frank” in 1999.  A tremendously well received book this led to two others about the Frank family – “The Hidden Life Of Otto Frank”(2002), “A Friend Called Anne (co-written with Anne’s best friend Jacqueline van Maarsen) and two children’s books “Anne Frank’s Story” and “Anne Frank and the Children of the Holocaust”.   She has written two novels, very well received in Europe – Her novel set during the First World War “The Winter Of The World” was shortlisted for two major French literary awards.  Her fascination with British crime has led to publications on the Myra Hindley and Moors Murder case, “One of Your Own: The Life and Death of Myra Hindley” (2010) and “Evil Relations”, a collaboration with David Smith, a main prosecution witness in the case.  Carol Ann’s 2012 publication of “A Fine Day for a Hanging”a study of the Ruth Ellis case saw her being given access to previously unavailable material.  Carol Ann’s true crime books have been shortlisted for the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger, Britain’s leading award for crime non-fiction.  This could very well be the year she wins this award for “The Murders At White House Farm.”


Carol-Ann Lee’s previous publications are available from amazon.co.uk

My original review of “The Murders At White House Farm” can be found here



The Murders At White House Farm – Carol Ann Lee (2015) – A Murder They Wrote Review


Warning: This book gave me nightmares. I don’t read a lot of true crime as I tend to get too involved in what is being unfolded and there’s a thin line between being interested as a reader and feeling like a vulture picking over the pieces of the miseries of other lives. For a long time I felt very damaged by my reading of “Killing For Company”, Brian Masters’ seminal book on Muswell Hill serial murderer Dennis Nilsen. Other books in this field have rightly become classic reads. Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” (1966) was a game-changer as the author became obsessed by the crime he was recording and by its perpetrators. Kate Summerscale’s “Suspicions of Mr Whicher” (2008) brought a case from 1860 back into the limelight with meticulous research. Carol Ann Lee began her non-fiction publications with a number of books on Anne Frank but her writing has taken a much darker turn of late with works on Myra Hindley and Ruth Ellis. Here she moves more up to date with a case which exploded across the tabloids and shocked a nation in 1985, the murder of the Bamber Family at White House Farm, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex. Although some may question why this case is being raked up yet again to cause more heartbreak Lee may very well have produced another classic in the true crime genre.

In August 1985 Police discovered a killing spree at the farm which had left grandparents June and Nevill Bamber, their daughter Sheila and her six year old twin boys dead from multiple gunshot wounds. The original belief was that Sheila, (who became emblazoned in the press as “Bambi”), who had suffered from serious mental health issues had murdered her parents and children and then committed suicide. It was, however, her brother Jeremy Bamber who was convicted of the crime.

I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book but I did find it compulsive and it remained with me even when I wasn’t reading it (hence the nightmares). The research is painstaking as Lee thoroughly examines the circumstances leading to the slaughter, the initial assumptions made by the police and the reinterpretation of evidence which led to Jeremy’s conviction. A phone call from Jeremy’s father at the time of the killing and a gun silencer seem to be the key points here.

I think Lee has produced a balanced, thorough examination of the case. Bamber has spent 30 years in prison and his insistence of his innocence and the campaign for his release is one of the longest running and most supported this country has known. Lee has tended to steer clear of this but I stumbled across Bamber’s campaign website on which there is a 34 question quiz to separate “fact from fiction”- even with the knowledge gained by reading this book I still only scored 50%, probably because this perception of events is different from the author’s.

It’ s easy to forget how different the Britain of thirty years ago was in terms of attitudes, policing, detection work, the press and media and this is skilfully recreated. I think this is an important book in the true crime canon but the general reader must be prepared to have the events of White House Farm remain with them for some time.


“The Murders At White House Farm” is published July 2015 by Pan Macmillan/Sidgwick and Jackson. Thanks to Netgalley for providing this copy for review

As a result of this review an interview with Carol Ann Lee was arranged for my Author Strikes Back Thread. This interview can be found here with direct links to purchase the book.