This is the third novel I’ve read by former journalist Megan Goldin. Her debut The Girl in Kellers Way was published in 2017 and The Escape Room in 2018. Interestingly all three books have felt kinda different. The first was very much domestic noir; the second a suspenseful thriller; and here there’s less of a sense of impending doom. The Night Swim is more about human nature – about people and the things we do. The things we don’t do. For me it also offered a sense of sad wistfulness, a sense of injustice.
Interestingly, though I liked our lead character Rachel, Goldin doesn’t give us a lot of information about her. This book, which I really enjoyed, is very plot driven. And we’re actually offered two mysteries: a rape trial which is the subject of Rachel’s podcast; and a death from 25 years earlier.
The Night Swim
by Megan Goldin
Published by Michael Joseph
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name—and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.
The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating—but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places.
Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered—and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.
Rachel was obviously a journalist and once married, though we learn little else. Initially I struggled with the lack of backstory or context but (perhaps) more interestingly it ultimately doesn’t matter: the Rachel I liked is the Rachel I meet just briefly – over the days this book spans. It’s not that her character is not multidimensional, as Goldin offers texture – we get insight into her thoughts and feelings. We’re let into Rachel’s world but only her immediate world.
I was a little intrigued by her producer who would normally accompany her but is in hospital and I suspected nefarious circumstances for a while. (And yes, I read too many thrillers!)
We meet Hannah when she’s nine and her 16yr old sister Jenny dies. The events of twenty-five years earlier open the book. We understand then the impact it’s had on Hannah’s life. We meet her in the present through letters she passes to Rachel, slowly eking out information about the events in the lead up to her sister’s death. Secrets she’s kept ever since. Secrets that have shaped her life.
In the present, Rachel’s covering a rape case. It’s the first time she’s not revisiting an old case for the podcast but she’s keen to present both sides during the court case. It could be cliched and it is a little. It does feature the local golden-haired boy. Swim star. Prodigy of the town’s wealthiest family. But the ‘victim’ (Kelly) isn’t without family support and influence. Of course however the town’s divided on the issue of consent and as much concerned about the impact on the young hero’s future as the young woman’s mental state. I felt Rachel came down pretty solidly on the side of the victim (which was warranted as the rapist and his family were kinda revolting) but her podcast purports to be fair.
Goldin’s written this in a way that we’re all pretty sure we know what’s happened in the present case, but she still offers up a few surprises.
And when it comes to the case involving Jenny, 25 years earlier, Rachel finds herself sucked in. It’s obvious any investigation into her death at the time was cursory and she attempts to find out why. It has to be said though, Hannah already holds most answers and tells Rachel she just needed the courage to help her tell her story.
The two cases mirror each other, though Jenny (and Hannah) had far fewer advantages and resources at their disposal. There’s a sadness in that disparity and knowing that they had no support and nowhere to turn.
Goldin does a great job at planting us in this small town. At introducing us to local colour and flavour as the sense of place felt very real. It’s a key factor in Rachel’s podcast – the small town vibe. Everyone knows everyone else. Media not reporting the rape victim’s name is kinda pointless really.
I was particularly hooked by Hannah’s story and keen to know what happened. I actually spent a lot of time trying to guess who Hannah was, assuming we’d met her in the present… (as an aside, the court sketch artist had my bet!). Goldin doesn’t go there though, and in retrospect I think underplaying Hannah’s presence and offering her story through the letters to Rachel is a really effective tool.
One of the things this book brought home was the way the characters and personalities of those involved in trials (the victim and perpetrator) are portrayed. (Here) both in the media and by their lawyers. It made me wish there were no descriptors involved. No detail. No context. No ‘voice’ to sway those charged with deciding the outcome. Just the facts.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin was published on 4 August 2020 by Penguin Australia (Michael Joseph).
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.