The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name—and the last hope for 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 new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation—but the mysterious letters keep coming. 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 insist she was murdered—and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases—and a revelation that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.
Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?
A friend reached out to me a few months ago on Instagram with this book title and said she thought of me . . . I guess because I’m a true crime podcaster and the story is set in a fictional town in North Carolina! I downloaded the book on my Kindle before a recent trip.
The character of Rachel Krall is well-written and I could see a lot of myself in her, from her workaholic tendencies to her inquisitive nature and determination to get to the heart of a story. The structure of the book works well, first starting out with the voice of Hannah, sharing the story of her sister Jenny, who died in the same town that Rachel is visiting for the podcast trial, vowing, that “she won’t be silent anymore.” The rest of the book follows Rachel as she settles into town for the rape trial she’s covering for her podcast. The book then alternates chapters through Hannah’s voice, Rachel’s voice, and the actual podcast episode scripts covering the trial, which I thought was a nice way to mix up the storytelling.
Goldin tells the story of the present-day rape victim and her accuser in such detail that it’s easy to see how people choose sides, especially when the accused rapist is a champion swimmer who most people in the small town of Neapolis revere.
One thing I’ve learned from studying suspense/thrillers is that there are always a few different characters that are “off camera” or “faceless.” The Night Swim follows this formula. In the sections where Hannah is telling the story of what happened to Jenny, there are several teen boys who keep showing up in the scenes, and you get the feeling they are going to reappear in the present-day storyline with Rachel. It was enough to keep me guessing and thinking to myself “Is he Bobby, etc.?” throughout the second half of the book.
Things I liked about the story: I liked the podcast scenes and the parallel storylines, which were masterfully written and kept me turning the pages. The reader is drawn into the legwork that goes into writing and producing a true crime podcast, including hunting down people for interviews, spending hours in an editing booth, attending a trial and sometimes forgetting to eat. There were also enough red herrings scattered throughout that I never found my mind wandering. For example, who were the teen boys who terrorized Jenny Stills? Why wouldn’t anyone in the small town stop the abuse? Is there a reason Rachel’s podcast producer is tied up in the hospital so that we never “see” him? And who is the mysterious man with scars all over his face Rachel keeps running into when she’s alone near the beach?
Things I didn’t appreciate as much: I sort of saw the “twist” at the end coming, and I don’t think it will be a surprise to most people. Also, for anyone triggered by scenes of abuse and sexual assault, this one may be a tough read, because graphic details are shared in both the rape trial scenes and in Hannah’s memories of what she saw happen to her sister at the hands of several classmates. One thing I saw mentioned in reviews was the use of having Hannah tell her story to Rachel through letters. These letters would go on for pages and pages, and she kept asking Rachel to meet her in public and then leaving these long letters on the car instead. A reviewer said that was unrealistic that someone would write a letter that long while they are sharing such detailed information about a sister’s death, and I found myself thinking the same thing. It would almost have been easier to have the whole story relayed in a journal or diary and have Rachel read it sections at a time.
Overall I enjoyed the book and think Megan Goldin did a great job in weaving a suspenseful and sorrowful tale, so I’ll pick up her first book, The Escape Room, and probably check it out this summer.