Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 4 August 2020)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 344 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Australian crime fiction sensation, Megan Goldin, returns with an impressive third novel, The Night Swim, an intense and heavy-hitting read that quickly drags the reader in with its captivating narrative that refuses to let go.
Following the success of the first season of her true crime podcast show, Guilty or Not Guilty, which set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become an overnight sensation and a beacon for people seeking justice or their freedom. Determined to keep her momentum going, Rachel decides to set the latest season of her podcast around the most contentious trial in the country, a high-profile rape case in the small town of Neapolis. The town’s golden boy, a famous swimmer with Olympic potential, has been accused of raping the popular granddaughter of the town’s legendary police chief. The resultant case has divided both the town and the country, and many are eager to see how the hearing unfolds.
Arriving in Neapolis, Rachel begins her own investigation, interviewing people of interest and trying to provide an unbiased version of the case to her listeners. But as she attempts to unwind the legal and moral complexities surrounding the case, Rachel finds herself distracted when she begins to receive a series of letters from a mysterious woman. This woman, Hannah, is a former local who has returned to Neapolis because of the trial and is requesting Rachel’s help in getting long-overdue justice for her sister, Jenny Stills, who died 25 years earlier.
Officially, Jenny’s death was ruled as an accidental drowning and barely anyone remembers who she was or how she died. However, Hannah’s letters reveal a far different story about a poor girl who was brutally murdered and whose memory and legacy was tarnished from beyond the grave. As Rachel beings to investigate the death of Jenny, she soon finds parallels between this old case and the modern-day rape. Something truly rotten occurred 25 years ago in Neapolis and now the past has come back to haunt those involved. Can Rachel bring justice after all these years and how will her findings impact the current trial?
Now that was a powerful and compelling read from Goldin, who has once again produced an excellent and impressive read. Megan Goldin is a talented Australian author who debuted back in 2017 with The Girl in Kellers Way. I first became familiar with Goldin when I received a copy of her second book, The Escape Room, in 2018. I really liked the curious synopsis of The Escape Room, and once I started it I found that I was unable to stop, resulting in me reading it entirely in one night. As a result, I was quite eager to get my hands on Goldin’s third book, The Night Swim, and I was really glad that I got a chance to read it. This new standalone crime fiction novel proved to be an extremely intriguing read with an outstanding story that expertly deals with some heavy and controversial issues and which takes the reader on an intense and memorable journey.
At the centre of this book is a complex and multi-layered narrative that is loaded with emotion, mystery and social commentary. The main story follows Rachel as she arrives in Neapolis and attempts to uncover some background behind the events of the rape case she is covering. This part of the story sees Rachel interview several key witnesses or associated individuals to get their side of the story, explores how the case is impacting the town, witnesses the details of the dramatic court case and then reports her finding and feelings in separate extended chapters made to represent a podcast episode. Rachel also investigates the events that occurred 25 years ago to Jenny Stills. Rachel is guided in this part of the story by Hannah’s mysterious letters, which paint a detailed picture of Hannah’s childhood and her memories of the events that occurred. Rachel follows the clues left in the letters as well as her own investigations to attempt to uncover what really happened all those years ago and who the culprits are.
I really liked how Goldin split out the story, especially as it combined cold case elements with a modern legal thriller and investigation. Both the present case and the historical crime had compelling, if dark, narrative threads, and I really appreciated where both storylines ended up. Naturally both cases were connected in some way, especially as a number of key people associated with the modern-day rape, such as the police investigators, lawyers, the parents of both parties and several other characters, were in Neapolis 25 years earlier and are potential suspects in this previous crime. While I was able to guess who the main perpetrator of the Jenny Stills case was about halfway through the story, I still found it extremely intriguing to see the rest of the story unfold and the joint conclusion of both narratives was rather satisfying. Some of the key highlights of this story for me included the exciting and dramatic court scenes and I also enjoyed the use of the true crime podcast in the story. Having the protagonist run a successful true crime podcast or television show is a story element that has been a little overused in recent years, but I still find it to be an intriguing inclusion, especially as Goldin utilised it well in this novel as both a plot device and a forum for the character/author’s social musings. Overall, this was an excellent piece of crime fiction with an impressive narrative that will draw the reader in and ensure that they will stick around to see how it all unfolds.
One of the most distinctive aspects of The Night Swim is Goldin’s frank and comprehensive look at sexual assault crimes. The book’s narrative focuses on two separate but similar sexual assault cases that occurred within 25 years of each other. Goldin not only provides details of these crimes but also dives into other elements of rape and assault, such as how victims are impacted in the aftermath, how sexual assault crimes are viewed in society and very little has changed around this in recent years. This novel paints a particularly grim picture on the entire legal process surrounding the process for investigating and prosecuting rape cases and there are some fascinating, if horrifying, examinations of how society still has trouble coming to a consensus when it comes to these crimes, and how cases like these can divide communities and nations. There are a number of examples contained within the plot about the public perception of the crimes, with doubt and blame being placed on rape victims who are forced to relive their assaults in different ways and who face unfair and often malicious attacks on their reputations and psyches. It was also interesting to see the author examine some of the fear that women experience all the time at the possibility of an attack, and the protagonist’s emotional podcast posts are particularly good for exploring her experiences and thoughts on the matter. There is also a clever and apt bit of symbolism around this in the form of a caged mockingbird at the protagonist’s hotel who is bothered by several random men for not singing, which I thought was rather striking and memorable. Goldin does a fantastic job diving into this subject and she really pulls no punches in showing what a terrible and mentally damaging crime this is, as well as the impacts that it has on the victims. Because of this The Night Swim is a bit of tough book to read at times and some readers may find a lot of the content quite distressing. However, I really appreciated that Goldin spent the time exploring this subject and it proved to be a captivating and memorable addition to the story.
The small fictional town of Neapolis also proved to be a great setting for this novel, and I liked the way that Goldin utilised this location in The Night Swim. I think that the author was able to produce an excellent approximation of classic small town America, complete with social power players, economic troubles, well-to-do former residents who have returned to face their past and old secrets and lies that are only now bubbling to the surface. It was really intriguing to see the protagonist uncover all the secrets of the town, especially the ones told in Hannah’s cryptic letters and childhood musings. It was also fascinating to see the impacts of family reputation and parental legacy on how crimes are investigated and covered up and this becomes a major factor in both of the cases being investigated. I also liked how Goldin examined how a controversial sexual assault case could divide a small town like Neapolis, with all the resultant friction and disagreement obvious for an outsider like Rachel to observe. Overall, this was a compelling setting, and I think that it really helped to enhance the intriguing narrative that Goldin produced.
With this third impressive novel, Megan Goldin has once again shown why she is such a rising star in the crime fiction genre. The Night Swim is a powerful and captivating read that expertly examines a heavy, relevant and surprisingly divisive real-world topic and utilises it to create a clever crime fiction story set across 25 years. This was a truly outstanding piece of fiction, and the combination of a great mystery, dramatic writing and an in-depth examination of crime and society proved to be rather compelling and memorable. While The Night Swim is a standalone read, I think that the protagonist introduced in this novel has some potential as a repeat character, and it might be interesting to see her travel around the country, investigating crimes for her podcast. In the meantime, The Night Swim comes highly recommended and I look forward to seeing what Goldin comes up with next.