Those who are tuned into the true crime scene will probably recognize the name Paul Holes if they hear it. He is most known for his contributions to solving the Golden State Killer case using advanced methods of identifying the culprit with a combination of DNA and genealogy technology. Holes attended the University of California, Davis receiving a B.S. in biochemistry, and he served Contra Costa County from 1990, working his way up the ranks from forensic lab rat to criminal profiler to investigator for the Sherrif's office until his retirement in 2018. Since then, he has contributed to various media outlets discussing the breakthroughs in the Golden State Killer case, as well as other true crime anecdotes. Unmasked recounts some of the various cases he's worked, some that haven't been solved to this day, as well as discusses how much the work of a detective can affect one's family life.
What I loved so much about this book is all the little details. When we hear the word "detective" or "investigator" I think most people think someone just assumes that position, but we don't learn about them climbing the ranks and working in labs to gain the experience. As a clinical toxicologist I appreciated all the time dedicated to discussing Holes' time working as a lab rat, because while clinical tox can be vastly different than forensics, in terms of chain of custody and serving as experts on case trials, I could relate. There was also plenty of discussion about how a job like criminal profiler or crime scene investigator affects your brain and how you process information, which might make conversations with those who aren't in your line of work awkward or displeasing. There is also the aspect of wanting to spend every minute of every day trying to solve a case you can feel you're on the right track to crack, and overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion. This book doesn't shy away from the grisly details of being a detective, and knowing that some cases just aren't going to be solved so some families will never get the justice they deserve. I think one of the hardest chapters for me to read was about Michelle McNamara. Michelle had a long-term fascination with true crime and became intently keen on trying to solve the case of the Golden State Killer, who's name she had actually coined. She collected information from various juridictions and shared that information with people who would later connect all the dots and capture the culprit with genealogical technology. Holes and McNamara often chatted about the case and struck up a friendship after she interviewed him for articles she penned for Los Angeles magazine. Michelle passed away in her sleep in 2016, following an overdose of prescription drugs, and a book she had been writing I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer was released posthumously in 2018 - just a few months before the breakthrough that led the the killer's arrest.
Although my advanced reader copy of Unmasked comes in at under 300 pages, I took my time and broke it down to consume over several days. Personally, I think this is a good way to go when picking up this book. Some chapters can describe a gruesome crime scene in vivid detail, as it's probably burned into Holes' memory, or the stories of victims who have lost their lives and never seem to have received any justice. No matter how small a mention, these are all real people who have in some way been wronged by terrors of the world. While it might seem tempting to read through all at once, I do believe that each of these individual chapters, and the stories within them, deserve their own time to be read and appreciated.
In conclusion, I believe true crime readers and those who are interested in the Golden State Killer case are going to be intrigued by Paul Holes' words and the stories he's relived through his memoir. It is truly a striking book that sheds light on so much that is unknown about the lives of those solving crime in America - the good, the great, the bad, and even the ugly. I am so incredibly glad I was able to read this early and share my thoughts. *Thanks to BookishFirst and the publisher, Celadon Books, for the early copy, all thoughts and opinions are my own.*