Before we start with Goldin, those of you who have been around for a minute know that mysteries and thrillers hold a special place in my heart. Sure, every genre has their strengths, but mysteries are in their own league.
I’m not even sure how to describe it. Mysteries have all the common elements of literature; character arcs, emotional development, they often transport us to new places. But there’s also like a, second, hidden plot that’s driving the story. The big mystery that we’re trying to solve based on little hints and clues. Until we get the big reveal at the end! And then you can track that ending back to the random character we bump into on page 12. Or the missing earring from chapter 4.
If you can write a story that compels me to keep reading even when I’m missing big pieces of the plot, that’s impressive. If you can do all that and prove that the answer to the mystery was always there, right in front of me but hidden behind a few veiled words, that is doubly impressive.
I mean, think of And Then There Were None, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Silence of the Lambs. Hell, look at The Firm! So many amazing examples of story telling.
As you can tell, I feel quite strongly about the literary value of mysteries. And that means when I read a poorly plotted or written mystery, I can be a little unforgiving.
Enter Goldin and The Night Swim.
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.Back of book
This is my first Goldin read; I saw the description and was excited to think of a small, seaside town with a closet full of skeletons. And who doesn’t love the idea of a smart and capable woman trying to discover the truth?
But The Night Swim fell so flat, it didn’t reach anywhere near it’s potential.
My biggest gripes were the writing, Rachel as a character, and the big reveal. So no big, right?
We’ll start small: the writing. I don’t expect rich, flowery language from a mystery. But I do expect individual character voices and more than ultra basic descriptions. Rachel and Hannah (author of all those pesky notes) have never met and have completely different backgrounds. However they are so similar when they write and speak, it’s like they were sisters. For instance, they both describe the town as provincial. I don’t know about you, but the only person I know who uses that word in a sentence is Belle from Beauty in the Beast.
Which might have been ok if it had been used as a plot device or something. But it felt totally unintentional which in turn seemed lazy. Neither Goldin or anyone on the editing team caught it?
Then we have Rachel as a character.
The back of the book makes it seem like she has some hidden talent or knowledge that gives her an edge right? I mean come on, Goldin has her outsmart teams of whole detectives to set a man free!
Things that seems glaringly obvious totally went over her head. At one point she’s talking about the letter being put on her car when she made an unplanned stop for gas. She’s like, that’s crazy, what are the odds someone knew it was my car since no one has ever seen my face? NONE. The odds are zero. And shouldn’t a crime junkie suspect that?
This was the first instance of many; the graveyard, the room service food, the note at the pier, the mysterious man at the pier.
Rachel also felt two dimensional. The most glaring example actually comes from someone roasting her.
She’s accused of exploiting other people’s tragedies to make money. She’s like ok, then moves on and never addresses it. Honestly, it’s a good point! She mentions multiple times how sad she is that she can’t help more people. But instead of volunteering her skills or finding a way to help more people through an organization (like The Innocence Project), she continues to make the podcast for money.
Which, ok that’s her decision, but because she doesn’t defend or explain herself at all, I was left feeling like the person who roasted her was right.
Lastly, the big reveal.
It wasn’t a big reveal. Goldin tipped her hand early enough that I clocked both parts of the mystery, past and present. And any police officer or super accomplished lawyer (there are several in the story) should have clocked it too.
Sorry Goldin. The plot was very current (true-crime podcasts, swimmer who’s accused and ultimately found guilty of sexual assault) but the relevance wasn’t enough to save the story. I’d recommend sticking with Hawkins or Ware.