Book review and synopsis for The Night Swim by Megan Goldin, a courtroom thriller and mystery novel about a rape trial.
In The Night Swim, Rachel Krall is a true crime podcast host who ventures into the town of Neapolis to cover a rape trial. Local celebrity swimmer Scott Blair is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl, Kelly Moore. Rachel reports on the trial through her podcast and does some external investigating into the facts on her own as well.
Meanwhile, Rachel begins to receive letters asking for her help to find justice for a second rape that occurred in Neapolis nearly 25 years ago. As the trial proceeds, Rachel hopes to find justice for both the victims. And it just might involve uncovering old secrets buried long ago.
Rachel Krall is a true crime podcast host who goes to a small town, Neapolis, to report on a trial. Scott Blair is accused of raping of a 16-year-old girl, Kelly Moore. Meanwhile, Rachel starts receiving letters from a woman named Hannah, asking for help regarding the rape and murder of her older sister, Jenny Stills, in Neapolis 25 years ago. (The book intersperses letters from Hannah and Rachel's podcast episodes throughout the story.)
As Rachel investigates and the trial begins, she learns that Kelly had gone to her friend Lexi's house for a party, but was kicked out for kissing Lexi's ex-boyfriend. A boy from school, Harris Walker, walks her home and takes her to a playground to hang out. (At trial, it's alleged that Scott told Harris to lure here there). Harris leaves momentarily and Scott shows up. Scott is a minor celebrity because he's a swimmer training for the Olympics. Scott takes Kelly out for pizza and then later they go to the beach. Depending on who you ask, she is either raped or they have consensual sex.
Meanwhile, Hannah writes to Rachel about Jenny's case. She and Jenny's mother, Hope Stills, had a bad reputation because her daughters have different fathers. One day some boys from the beach take an interest in Jenny. They offer Jenny (16) and Hannah (9) a ride home from the beach, but kick Hannah out and rape Jenny. They later come back for more. Hannah sees it and tries to stop them, but it still results in an incident where Jenny dies. Afterwards, Jenny's name in town becomes synonymous with being a slut.
Rachel finds out that in town people believe that Jenny simply hit her head on some rocks and drown. She finds out at the morgue that her injuries are inconsistent with an accident, but there was no police investigation. Incidentally, the night of Jenny's death, two other teen boys were killed in a car accident in town. Meanwhile, as the trial proceeds, Kelly begins her testimony, but is too traumatized by the cross examination. Her parents decide not to let her finish testifying. This means they will likely lose the case.
Rachel notices that there's a similarity in the two cases. In Hannah's story, one of the boys, Bobby wraps her up in a shirt to hide her. In Kelly's story, she wakes up to find a short wrapped around her. Rachel remembers seeing a man do the same thing to a seagull. She confronts the man, "Vince Knox" who admits that his real name is Bobby Green. He was one of the boys (though he didn't rape Jenny). He was sent to jail for driving the car in the accident where the two boys died. He befriended Vince Knox in jail (who died in prison), so he took on Vince's name to give himself a new start. The next day, "Vince"/Bobby testifies in court that he heard what happened between Scott and Kelly and that it was rape.
Hannah is also finally ready to meet. The gas station attendant that Hannah had gone to for help 25 years ago is now dying of lung cancer. He has nothing left to lose so he finally admits that he saw a boy, now a man, running off from the scene of the crime the night of Jenny's death. It was Dan Moore, father of Kelly Moore (his connection between the two cases is a coincidence).
Hannah asks Rachel to meet, where Hannah also plans to confront Dan. Dan confesses that, that night, Bobby had attacked them when the boys threatened Hannah, and Bobby was injured. They left an injured Jenny on the beach initially to take Bobby to the hospital, but he drove back and threw Jenny into the water, where she drowned. Afterwards, he drove off and got into the accident, killing his friends. Dan called his father, Russ Moore, who was Chief of Police in Neapolis. Russ made it look like Bobby was the driver, and told Dan to lie and say he was home that night. Russ ensured there would be no investigation of Jenny's death. Bobby was sent to jail for the deaths of his friends. Jenny's death was ruled an accident.
In the end, Scott is found guilty of sexual assault and sexual battery (though insufficient evidence for rape). Dan makes a getaway, but then kills himself. The book ends with Rachel leaving town and her producer talking about a case for the next season of the podcast.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin came out earlier this month, and it is part courtroom thriller and part mystery (and part podcast! well, sort of). It’s also a suspenseful and tense story, that happens to be perfect for mystery fans looking for an audiobook to listen to.
The Night Swim is a courtroom thriller and mystery tale about two rapes that occurred in the same city roughly 25 years apart. One of them is at trial and the other never even received a police investigation. One victim is alive and the other is dead.
Goldin does a fantastic job of building up the tension and presenting the facts of her story in a way that heightens the suspense in the narrative. Even though the build up is a bit slow, I never felt disengaged. I’m usually rather a impatient reader, so Goldin’s ability to pace out her story in a way that feels compelling every step of the way is a testament to her skill.
I also think the book is well-written in general. She writes convincingly and even the emotionally heightened scenes never come off as cheesy or ridiculous (which often happens in genre fiction).
Goldin seems to seek to educate as much as to cover her mystery. Interspersed with the main storyline are “podcast episodes” from Rachel that discuss things about the ins and outs of trials, how rape kits work and other discussions about relevant topics. I thought it was a clever way to present this information (and on the audiobook, where it’s produced to sound like an actual podcast episode, it’s adds an element of faux realism to the narrative.)
The tone of the book as a whole is a bit serious and foreboding. It’s a dark story and it never really lets up. I didn’t mind, but that’s something to be aware of going into it. One quick warning is that this book is very, very heavy on discussions of rape, the trauma associated with it, the aftermath of it and has multiple incidents throughout the books. If it’s at all a difficult topic for you, you may want to skip this book.
Overall, I thought The Night Swim was a solid book and mystery novel. It was helped a lot by the fact that I listened to the audiobook, which I thought was great (see more of my thoughts on it below).
The resolution mystery itself is probably a weaker aspect of this book. It’s not terrible, but there’s just some plot holes and a lot of very contrived occurrences to make it work (mostly, people not admitting stuff earlier and then randomly deciding they’re ready to talk with only the thinnest of justifications as to why). It wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, since I think a lot of the book is solid enough to overcome it. But it’s worth noting that if you’re looking for a really solidly constructed mystery, this one probably isn’t it.
(For more details, see the Spoilers section at the end of the post.)
As a minor point of criticism, there’s a pretty big logical flaw in the prosecution’s argument in the case against Scott Blair. One of the main arguments from the prosecution is that Scott’s actions are incriminating because he tried to cover up what happened. As evidence of this, they show that Scott asked Harris to lure Kelly to a location to prevent being seen with her. They also make the point that Scott asked her to wash off to wipe off forensic evidence. All of this makes for a really weak argument because then the prosecution also puts forth that Scott bragged about it afterwards, took a photo of her partially nude and posted that photo publicly.
It makes no sense for them to put forth both of these things. Either he’s someone who tried to cover up his involvement or he’s a jerk who bragged about his conquest, but it makes no sense for them so argue it both ways. There would be no point in asking Harris to get involved or trying to clean up forensic evidence if he was going to make it known that they’d had intercourse (whether voluntarily or not) regardless.
In the context of the book, this is not a huge deal, but it’s just something that bugged me since a decent chunk of the book is spent going over these events which are essentially immaterial.
The Night Swim Audiobook Review
The audiobook for The Night Swim is fantastic. It’s fully produced, so parts that are “recordings” are made to sound like it and the parts that are supposed to be “podcast episodes” are decked out with intro and outro music and things like that. The narrator is solid, and the story itself is straightforward enough to follow that it makes for perfect audiobook listening.
I highly recommend this audiobook if you’re an audiobook fan who also loves mysteries. I listen to a bunch of audiobooks, and this is probably the best mystery-on-audiobook that I can recall listening to.
Read it or Skip it?
It’s not a super twisty tale if that’s what you’re looking for in your mysteries, but it’s well-written and Goldin does a great job of presenting the plot in a way that’s suspenseful and intriguing.
I thought the resolution was a teensy bit weak and too reliant on coincidences or thin explanations of people’s actions, but Goldin tells her tale in such a convincing and suspenseful way that I still enjoyed it.
Also, I said this before repeatedly above, but it’s worth saying again. I really strongly recommend the audiobook version of this. It’s very well produced and easy to follow.
It was Dan Moore, the father of Kelly Moore. (The fact that he’s involved in both the cases is purely coincidental.) He was one of the boys at the beach who attacked Jenny. After they were planning on taking Bobby to the hospital, Dan went back to the beach and tossed her into the ocean so she couldn’t rat them out.
What happens at the ending of The Night Swim?
Rick, the gas station operator, admits to Hannah that he saw Jenny’s killer run away from the scene of the crime. We find out that it was Dan Moore, the father of Kelly Moore, killed Jenny. Hannah gets a confession out of Dan, who then goes on the run and soon kills himself.
Dan was also the one who actually killed the two boys by driving drunk and getting into the accident. Bobby had been injured while fighting the other boys when they threatened Hannah. However, Dan called his dad, the Chief of Police, who made it look like Bobby did it. He also ensured there was no investigation into Jenny’s death. Bobby survived his injuries, but went to prison where he met Vince. He took on Vince’s name to give himself a new start.
In the trial, Kelly decides not to finish testifying which means that Scott will go free. However, Rachel figures out that Bobby/”Vince” was the one who found Kelly. Bobby/”Vince” testifies that he overheard the encounter and that it was definitely rape.
What are the plot holes in The Night Swim?
I thought Goldin did a really good job of building up the story and creating tension.
That said, the resolution of the plot has a number of issues. Like, Dan Moore being connected to both rapes, but only out of pure coincidence is pretty disappointing.
Rick finally deciding to talk for just as the trial ends also doesn’t make much sense. Like, Rachel had just spoken to him a few days before and he was determined to take this secret to his grave, but a week later he’s suddenly aware of his mortality? It would make more sense if he’d just been diagnosed with cancer or something had changed on his end. Hannah also not knowing about Rick’s existence or whereabouts until Rachel comes onto the scene is also questionable at best. Hasn’t she been living here this whole time?
Vince Knox’s involvement in both the attacks is also coincidental, which I also didn’t like. Also, the way that Rachel figures out it was him because he wrapped his shirt around a seagull is a stretch. Also, Vince Knox hears a girl being raped and then just leaves her there passed out in the sand? What?
I didn’t understand the whole bit about the Blair family being developers that own the property Rick lives on and that made money after Hope Stills sold her property for cheap. It sounded like it was going to develop into something interesting, but really have no impact on the plot.
As I mentioned in the non-spoiler-y part of the review, the whole bit about Harris was pointless. There was no reason for Scott to lure Kelly away before having sex her if he was just going to post a photo of them together afterwards. Ditto with the whole bathing thing.
Those are the things that stood out to me.
Anyway, those are the questions I knew off the bat people would likely have, but if you have more, just post them below. I’ll add it here if it seems like multiple people have the same questions.
Recommended Published August 4, 2020
Page Count 352 pages
Goodreads4.06 (out of 5)
From the Publisher
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.