Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving ...

Stating that I am a fan of true crime as a way to kick off this book review seems unnecessary. If you’re reading this blog, you likely know me in some way be it personally (Hi, Mom!) or through bookstagram. Just in case, my true crime journey is just like that of other murderinos, crime junkies, and web sleuths. I grew up with an interest in true crime, but avoided talking about it because people already thought I was a little dark, no need to add to that perception. Then the true crime revival occurred. All of the sudden podcasts and documentaries were coming out left and right. I went from hiding my interest to diving into the deep end. The more I learned the more I felt frustrated by the injustices. The more frustrated I felt, the more I felt compelled to do something, anything to make a difference. Advocating for changes to various policies was already in my wheelhouse as a self proclaimed policy wonk, but I still felt (feel, really) like I needed to do more. In addition to knowing of Billy Jensen from Michelle McNamara’s book and through the My Favorite Murder podcast, that need is what led me this book.

Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen details his journey from an investigative journalist to a victim’s rights advocate actively working to solve the unsolvable. As a journalist, Jensen noticed that stories about unsolved cases, aka stories without an ending, often got less attention than those that were able to be neatly concluded. Spurred by several different events, including the death of his friend Michelle McNamara, Jensen began taking on the role of citizen detective. No longer content with simply reporting, he began actively using social media to help provide detectives with need information. Information that can and has resulted in an arrest(s). A conclusion to the story.

The first thing I noticed while reading Chase Darkness is how beautifully Jensen’s passion comes through the pages. It’s a little hard to describe, but at times the chapters almost seemed a little frenzied. You would jump from one case, to a different case, to a story from Jensen’s life, back to the previous case. I know that may make it seem like the book is hard to follow, but that was not the case at all. Instead, it really illuminated how it must feel to be driven by a need for justice in an arena that is hardly ever linear. Each case will have it’s own ups, downs, leaps forward, steps back. Knowing someone with as much purpose as Jensen is actively working on unsolved crimes made me feel hopeful.

In addition to explaining his journey, Jensen’s book sets up a plan for using citizen detectives and crowd sourcing as a way to solve crimes. I’m in no way surprised that the biggest roadblock to solving a crime is resources, plain and simple. I’ll admit that I was hesitant to believe that citizen detectives was the way to solve that problem. I was having flashbacks to meetings with too many cooks in the kitchen and conversations running amuck, no progress made. I am very happy to say that this book completely changed my mind. In the book’s addendum Jensen sets up a plan with a set of steps and rules to guide those interested in getting involved. The plan was clearly developed with serious thought, drawing from Jensen’s direct experience and knowledge with the techniques. Perhaps most importantly, the plan ensures that everyone is treated with respect, including the police departments, victims, families, and accused. If you’re someone who usually skips over prologues, addendum, epilogues, or appendices, this time DON’T. The information provided at the end of this book will help you turn inspiration into action.

I’m not sure what my origin story is, though I am sure a memory will hit me eventually and I’ll know why I first chose to google “serial killer.” I haven’t found my white whale, but I do know where my passion sits. Throughout the book it becomes clear that Jensen has a passion for solving those cases that have gone cold for police, especially those that don’t get the media attention necessary to keep public pressure high. For me, my passion has always been in missing person cases. Perhaps it’s my anxiety and control issues, but the thought of living with such a striking unknown feels impossible and it seems like these cases often leave police with little information to go on. How can someone just evaporate? As Jensen described, it seems like organized and targeted crowd sourcing could make a difference.

Overall, I felt like the book gave me a productive direction to channel my interest in true crime. This is an easy five out of five stars for me. As Jensen notes, getting into this type of work is not for the faint at heart. It takes a significant amount of time and commitment. I plan to start small. As detailed in the book, I’ve set up an email address and news alerts for my area. We’ll see where it goes from there, stay tuned.

Content Warnings: brief discussions of violence and murder.

A brief note on current events: Like many of you, I have spent the last few weeks reflecting on my privilege as a white woman and what I can (and should have already) been doing to support the Black community. My full thoughts, as well as resources for organizations to support, BIPOC book bloggers to follow and amplify, etc. can be found on my bookstagram page (@shelfishlybookish), which has a larger following than my blog. You will be noticing a change on my blog. While I will still be reviewing the thrillers, fantasy, and true crime books I love, you will be seeing an increase in books written by BIPOC authors. I should have been doing this a long time ago and want to make sure it becomes a part of my regular bookish routine, not just something I’m paying attention to this week.

Billy Jensen is someone I am proud to follow and support. In Chase Darkness with Me he speaks directly to issues related to racism and crime reporting. Over the last week he has posted content on Instagram (@billyjensen) that shows me he is an ally, a supporter of BIPOC and actively anti-racist. Since I had already finished reading his book, it seemed a shame to not review.

I’ll wrap this up by saying Black Lives Matter. More so, Black lives are worthy. Black lives are important. Black lives are needed. As someone interested in books (I assume), please take the time to seek out BIPOC authors. More generally, take the time to listen to members of the Black community. Learn from them and amplify their voices. Willingly make changes when necessary, and offer the movement help in whatever way you can. Human rights is not a political issue.

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