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The Night Swim


The Night Swim

Megan Goldin burst onto the mystery/thriller scene in 2019 with THE ESCAPE ROOM, a compulsively readable thriller about unlikable executives trapped in an “escape room”-like crime scene. Her highly anticipated third novel, THE NIGHT SWIM, is a timely and propulsive mystery about two young girls.

Rachel Krall is a famous podcaster who became an overnight sensation when the first season of her podcast, “Guilty or Not Guilty,” set an innocent man free. But with copycat podcasters popping up daily, the pressure to make the third season a success is ramping up. Finally, Rachel comes across a small-town rape trial and finds her new angle: she will take her listeners inside the courtroom to let them hear the trial unfold in real time and become pseudo-jurors themselves.

"THE NIGHT SWIM is compulsively readable on many levels. The podcast formatting of alternate chapters moves the narrative along quickly and adds a fresh pacing to the usual thriller style."

The case is set in the coastal town of Neapolis, and it is one that will be instantly familiar to readers for its commonalities: a teenage girl has been raped, and the accused is the town’s golden boy, a future Olympian. The town, much like Rachel’s listeners, is divided. What if it was just a bad night and the girl regrets having consensual sex? Should the accused, a lovely young man with so much potential, lose his entire future because of one accusation? Rachel, like many of you reading this review, argues that he absolutely should. She knows that no girl falsely accuses a man of rape for fame or notoriety, especially when victims themselves are often put on trial in the court of public opinion.

When Rachel arrives in Neapolis, she is grateful that she has kept her identity private for so many years. What was once a decision based on safety alone has played out in her favor now that she is in town reporting on an active case. But then a mysterious note is left on her windshield. One of her listeners has recognized her, and she is demanding that Rachel examine the death of her sister, whom she claims was murdered.

As Rachel begins to explore and get the feel for Neapolis, she can’t seem to avoid mentions of and arguments about the case. Finding interviewees is easy, and she has been granted court access, but she cannot seem to shake her mysterious stalker. With more and more letters appearing, she learns about the story of Jenny Stills.

Officially, Jenny tragically drowned on a nighttime swim off a local jetty. Her mother, already sick with cancer, died shortly after, leaving her younger sister, Hannah, completely alone. Locals tell Rachel that it was no real loss --- Jenny, like her mother, was promiscuous, the “town bike,” and likely got what she deserved. But Rachel can’t help but notice that Jenny and her family were impoverished, alone, and more or less unsupported in every way. Quite simply, they were easy victims, and even more easily judged. When she learns that it is Hannah writing to her, she finds herself obsessed with Jenny’s case --- and its shocking parallels to the rape trial that she is in town investigating.

THE NIGHT SWIM is compulsively readable on many levels. The podcast formatting of alternate chapters moves the narrative along quickly and adds a fresh pacing to the usual thriller style. At the same time, the searing currency of the rape trial has a shocking, “ripped from the headlines” feel that gives readers the upper hand in figuring out the nuances of the case and easily choosing a side. And then you have the mystery of a 25-year-old case --- a case so cold that even the local police department doesn’t know if it’s a homicide. Combined, these elements make for a perfect thriller, and Goldin is adept at building suspense, dropping clues and distracting you with red herrings.

I will say that readers of THE ESCAPE ROOM may be a little underwhelmed by THE NIGHT SWIM. It is by no means a boring or uninteresting thriller, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hooked by the end of the first chapter. But where the former was fresh and original, the latter feels a bit too familiar in every regard; the timeliness of the rape trial is alluring, but it lacks the same punch it might have had a year earlier. For me, the more interesting thread was the story of Jenny, and how her social status, parentage and era contributed to her case being swept under the radar. In many ways, THE NIGHT SWIM is about progress --- both the leaps and bounds we have made and the disturbing ways that the judicial system has remained stagnant.

Goldin is an eerily talented and adept writer. Although she is relatively new on the scene, her writing feels perfectly honed and measured. I loved the way that the premise focused on a podcaster and her search for the truth, but I wish that Goldin had applied this same originality to her mystery, as she did with THE ESCAPE ROOM. All comparisons aside, however, this is a smart and achingly current thriller with shocking twists and turns. Readers of DON’T TURN AROUND, THE WIFE BETWEEN US and I LET YOU GO will no doubt gobble up this fast-paced and intriguing novel.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 7, 2020

The Night Swim
by Megan Goldin