True crime podcaster Rachel Krall arrives in Neapolis, a small resort town on the Atlantic Ocean, to cover the trial of Scott Blair—a local hero—a swimming star who may be destined for Olympic glory. That is, of course, if he can avoid being found guilty of rape.
His hot shot attorney crafts a defense that his accuser is lying about what was a consensual encounter in order to get even with Blair after learning that he used her to score points in a contest with his roommate as to who could bed the most women. Not so, says the district attorney, a former hot shot criminal lawyer who has moved back to his hometown. Instead Kelly, the teenaged girl identified as K in court documents, was telling the truth when she said she was horrifically assaulted and then abandoned late at night on a deserted beach to find her own way home.
Rachel dives deep in the case, attending court during the day and at night recording her podcasts, interviewing the families of both teenagers, and researching the case. But soon Rachel is caught up in another mystery. Since arriving in town, she has been receiving letters from a woman named Hannah who asks her to look into the death of her sister Jenny—which occurred a quarter of a century ago. Reported as a drowning, Hannah believes that Jenny, an expert swimmer, was murdered, and she wants Rachel to prove it.
In The Night Swim (St. Martin Griffin) author Megan Goldin, a former reporter for Reuters who lives in Australia, deftly handles multiple story lines that crisscross between past and present. It’s a page turner as we follow Rachel’s podcast, “Guilty or Not Guilty,” which recounts the daily court proceedings, the cultural aspects of the townspeople and their reactions to accusations of rape, and the personalities of those involved in the case.
She learns that Scott once risked his life to save a stranger who was drowning and that he hopes to win a gold medal in part to please his father, a former swimming champion whose own dreams of gold were ended when he was injured. As for the alleged victim, Kelly was a happy, well-adjusted high-achieving teenager with dreams of going to college but now is broken, unable to move past the trauma. She is so emotionally distraught that she breaks down under the brutal and dehumanizing cross-examination by Scott’s attorney. Leaving the courtroom, she is unable to continue her testimony and without the jury hearing her side of the story, Scott will likely walk free.
And then there’s Hannah and Jenny. Hannah keeps writing letters, but she refuses to meet with Rachel. Jenny’s death itself is a mystery. Autopsy photos show a beaten and bruised young girl, but the police determined that it was an accidentally drowning. Was it a cover up and if so, why? Rachel, driven by her own experiences, wants to bring about justice for Jenny by finding out the truth. It’s a dangerous business, and she’s warned to back off. But for better or worse, she can’t stop until she knows the answers.
This review originally appeared in The New York Journal of Books.
About the Author
MEGAN GOLDIN, author of THE ESCAPE ROOM and THE NIGHT SWIM, worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs.