Desert Isle Keeper
The Night Swim
The Night Swim is a story about rape – the violence of the event, the trauma of the aftermath, the horror of the trial and the gauntlet women are forced to go through to achieve justice. While the details are not graphic, the brutality of what happens within the story is distressing enough that those who are triggered by this subject should probably not read the book.
Rachel Krall went from small-time reporter to household name when she started the podcast Guilty or not Guilty? which “puts the listener in the jury box”. During her first season she helped an innocent man go free and her second season was just as successful. Podcasts are a hot commodity however, and with copycat casts appearing everywhere, Rachel is concerned for her ratings. Determined to stay on top, she and her editor Pete decide to cover a rape trial and show how differently they are handled to those involving murder. Which is why Rachel is traveling to Neapolis, NC – to do programs about the trial of the town’s local hero, Scott, a national championship swimmer bound for Olympic glory who allegedly assaulted a young girl named Kelly.
The trip gets off to an eerie start. Stopping for a caffeine fix and a rest room break at a small diner, Rachel returns to her car to discover a letter left on her windshield. The note, from someone named Hannah, tells Rachel that the woman has contacted her twice and resorted to this method of communication because Rachel has not responded to her previous correspondence, and Hannah is desperate for her help. Hannah’s sister Jenny was murdered twenty-five years earlier in Neapolis and the case was never solved. It wasn’t even a case – the police insisted Jenny drowned. But Hannah knows better, and she needs Rachel to get justice for her sister.
As a radio personality who doesn’t do television interviews and whose publicity stills are fuzzy shots taken by her ex close to a decade ago, Rachel should be unrecognizable, so it disturbs her that Hannah somehow knows who she is. It troubles her even more as the notes continue to appear – on Rachel’s car, at her hotel room door, dropped off at the courtroom where she is covering the trial. But even as Rachel worries about her stalker she becomes increasingly interested in Jenny. It quickly becomes clear that whatever happened two decades before was no accidental drowning. So why was there no police investigation? Why do the townspeople act so strangely when she asks about it? And why is everyone so anxious to blame Jenny for her own death?
This slow-burn, low key mystery is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I feared at first that I would find Rachel off-putting, that she would be so focused on her ratings and success that she would use either the rape case or the Jenny case to get where she wanted to be and trample everyone who got in her way. Instead, I found Rachel to be an amazingly kind, compassionate and considerate person who is persistent in tracking down information but not at all callous about it. She doesn’t expose the people who help her, doesn’t promise Hannah solutions she can’t give her, and doesn’t railroad witnesses. In short, Rachel is a decent human being who knows how to do her job and does it well.
I liked that there was no love interest in the book. Rachel is exploring two cases – Jenny and the Scott/Kelly trial – and spends all her time working. I thought this was realistic – she has limited time in that community and needs to focus on what she wants to accomplish.
The look at how justice regarding rape works – from the blame-the-victim mentality of many people to the devastating toll it takes on those involved (the father of one of the witnesses loses his job, Kelly’s family feel forced to leave town, the accused loses his scholarship and his chance at the Olympics before the trial even takes place) was fascinating. While I don’t think the author gives a balanced view – she doesn’t seem too concerned about innocent until proven guilty – I did appreciate the effort she expends in showing the domino effect of the assault and how a lot of innocent people are damaged by it.
I also really appreciated how a string of normal occurrences on Kelly’s part turned into a crime. She gets into a fight with a girlfriend and as a result, is forced to leave a party in the middle of the night with no real safe way home. She finds herself seeking help from people whom she considers allies who abuse that trust. It’s all very normal and underlines the vulnerability women face when we aren’t hypervigilant of our surroundings and suspicious of everyone we see.
While she is a key figure in our story, we meet Hannah only through her letters till the very end. These missives track what she, as a ten-year-old, witnessed in the weeks leading up to Jenny’s death. Ms. Godin nails this portion of the narrative, capturing perfectly how a young child could be witness to crucial events/conversations and never realize the significance and meaning of those occurrences until she is much older.
For those used to the frantic pacing of books in the current thriller market, this story might seem a bit too slow. I would disagree though – this book has a true to life measure that makes it more chillingly realistic than a lot of the more frenzied offerings currently on the shelves. I would recommend The Night Swim to anyone who enjoys mysteries.