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.
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?
Content Warning: rape, sexual assault, murder
Megan Goldin knows how to choose hard to discuss topics. Last year her thriller Escape Room delved into the greedy corporation world that turns people into unscrupulous, ruthless money-making machines. Now she comes back with a new book that is as compelling and difficult to put down once you start reading it, but much more emotional and humane. The Night Swim is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Rachel Krall is a hugely successful investigative journalist who has her own true-crime podcast Guilty or Not. The third season is going to focus on a live trial of a golden boy/ prospective Olympic swimmer Scott Blair accused of a brutal rape of K., a 16 year old granddaughter of a former police chief. Rachel knows the trial is going to be hugely controversial and we get a taste of how divided the town inhabitants’ opinions are:
‘She was drunk. Means she couldn’t consent.’
‘he was drunk too. How could he know she didn’t consent if he was drunk? It goes both ways. Anyway, his life is ruined. what happens if some slutty girl tries to ruin my kid’s life by making stuff up?’
‘If she says it happened, then I believe her’.
Rachel’s podcast is going to cover the witness testimony and evidence as it is given in the courtroom to let her listeners decide for themselves on whether the verdict reached by the jury is something they would agree with. However, on her way to Neapolis, North Carolina, the small town where the trial is taking place, something else happens. When Rachel comes back from her restroom break she finds a note on the windshield. The note is addressed to her directly and comes from somebody called Hannah who is begging Rachel to look into the case of Jenny Stills, Hannah’ sister, who allegedly drowned 25 years ago. The note is followed by many other letters, and soon Rachel finds herself investigating Jenny’s case, fearing justice hasn’t been served in the case of this poor girl who was brutally raped and murdered.
The chapters are told from the point of view of Hannah who is recalling the traumatic past events and who wants the truth to come out, Rachel looking into Jenny’s story and uncovering some deeply disturbing facts, and Rachel’s podcast that covers the courtroom scenes and her deliberations on the how the society deals with rape and its victims. I have to say some of the scenes were so emotionally charged and gut-wrenching that I needed to put the book down and take a breath of fresh air. Having said that, Megan Goldin deals with this painful topic with extreme sensitivity and respect.
‘You can’t save the world, Rachel’. ‘Maybe not. But I can save one person at a time.’
I really liked Rachel- she is brave, inquisitive, honest, and tenacious. We learn bits and pieces about her as the story unfolds and every single fact or detail is relevant and adds to the picture of a person with great integrity. Hannah was more elusive for me. The way she delivers her notes is sensational and stalkerish and doesn’t make much sense to me, as Rachel already started looking into Jenny’s case. Hannah needs the truth to come out to get closure. She has been given opportunities in life and, most importantly, life itself, something Jenny was robbed of. There are some horrible scenes of the abuse hurled at Jenny. Twenty five years later K. is living through the same drama, although she is to some extent shielded and protected by her family. There are also some extremely unlikeable characters in this book and after having read both The Escape Room and The Night Swim, I can vouch Megan Goldin is really good at coming up with them.
The setting was really fitting for the story. Neapolis is a small town where most people know everybody else and it is isn’t easy to find twelve ( plus one, in case one falls ill and cannot continue) jury members who don’t know or a connected to the families of the accused or the plaintiff. This is the place where reputations are all important and money talks. Jenny and Hannah come from a family of have nots and as such, no matter what they do, they are judged harshly. K.’s case wouldn’t have even made it to the court had her family been less influential. One of the secondary characters in the book, a teenage boy is under pressure from his family to take a deal offered by the prosecution, because his family cannot afford legal expenses.
‘To tell you the truth, I don’t get how we can unanimously agree that murder is wrong, yet when it comes to rape some people still see shades of gray’.
Megan Goldin raises a lot of controversial questions such as the way the judicial system and our society in general deals with the crime of rape and sexual assault. The victim has to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, but the nature of the crime is such there are rarely witnesses and it often comes to one side’s word against the other side’s. They are both put on trial: one for the intent and actions, the other for credibility and I have to agree with Megan Goldin’s words:
‘it’s a terrible thing for a person to have to stand in judgment of another’.
If I hadn’t already been a fan of Megan Goldin’s work, I would have become one after reading this thought-provoking, compelling, well-written thriller. I can’t wait to read what topics she chooses to focus on in future.
Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read/listened to the Night Swim? if yes, what did you think?