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Saturday, August 15, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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HBO series documents writer’s search for a murderer

Dan Webster

Note: I write this update a day after initially posting this particular blog post. And I do so offering both good and bad news. First the bad: I mistakenly read the HBO website and thought the miniseries I was writing about featured only three episodes. Turns out it is six episodes long. Duh. So what's the good news? We have, at this point, three more coming! Anyway, my apologies. I've edited the post to correct my mistakes:

In our continuing quest to watch something new, my wife and I on occasion turn away from streaming movies, and also from my eclectic DVD collection, and look for specialty programming.

Which is why we turned to the HBO documentary miniseries "I'll Be Gone in the Dark."

Based on the nonfiction work of the late writer Michelle McNamara, the six-episode series focuses on McNamara's investigation of a string of crimes — robbery, rape and ultimately murder — that occurred in and around Sacramento and Santa Barbara, Calif., in the 1970s and '80s. That perpetrator was known by a number of names, from a blend of East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (or, simply, EARONS) to the Golden State Killer.

McNamara, then a freelance writer and blogger, researched relentlessly, first to write a magazine article then to complete a nonfiction book. And her efforts did help police detectives to finally nab the man behind the crimes. McNamara's struggle, though, eventually led to her death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and is a large part of what the HBO series covers.

As critic Brian Tallerico wrote on RogerEbert.com, "McNamara’s writing was so widely acclaimed because she revealed as much about herself as the case she profiled, commenting on how much this man had impacted her life. So much true crime writing and TV turns victims into numbers, often telling us more about the background of the criminal than those he destroyed. This is a project that’s constantly centering on the people that matter—the victims and the person who became obsessed with telling their stories."

Another strength of the series: how it explores the changes in attitudes toward the way police (and society in general) treat women who have been raped, not to mention how criminal investigations have adapted (especially involving DNA) to handle more sophisticated situations.  

As the series explains, following McNamara's death, her book was completed through the efforts of her widower husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, and true-crime writer Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen. It was then developed into the HBO series by a team led by executive producer and veteran documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus.

We've seen only the first three episodes. So our viewing menu for the coming weeks is already set.

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