Published by Touchstone
Publication date: March 12th 2013
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Mystery
By page three of Swimming at Night we have already learned of the death of Katie Greene’s sister, Mia. From that point onward, there is little opportunity to stop and catch your breath, as author Lucy Clarke neatly propels the action forward in this, her debut novel, where the mysteries pile up almost immediately. Mia was in Bali, not a country she was supposed to be in, and alone, as opposed to with her friend Finn, who had been with her earlier. Worse, her death is quickly ruled a suicide. For Katie this takes what is already a tragedy, the death of her only sister and living relative, and makes acceptance impossible. She and Mia had fought just days before her death—did her words cause her sister’s death? When Mia’s belongings are returned from Bali Katie finds her travel journal and decides the only way to assuage her guilt and disbelief is to recreate Mia’s journey.
Katie only reads the journal as far as the next country which allows for smooth passage between narrators. We are in present time with Katie, traveling and reading the journal and in the past with Mia as she made the original trip. Katie, an organized recruitment consultant even chooses to travel as her sister did, with only a backpack and staying in hostels. She goes from London to San Francisco and quickly finds the first clue in her sister’s mystery. Rather than go from SF to Australia as planned, Mia and Finn go to Maui to see the girls’ father, who has not been a part of their life in over twenty years, after he walked out on their mother. Mia’s journal entry about the meeting is brief, stating only that their father had no time for her. Katie learns significantly more than this and now the trip and the death-by-suicide take on frightening meaning.
There are plenty of books out there using the older sister/ younger sister, responsible one/wild child dynamic but Clarke keeps Swimming at Night fresh by starting with a comparatively blank canvas regarding the girls’ lives. We know only that their mother has died recently, that Katie is engaged and Mia can’t settle down. From these basic pieces of the present Clarke layers on the past and paints a strong portrait of both girls and their choices. The further Katie explores Mia’s path the more she learns about a sister she thought she knew well. She also comes to question her own life and decisions. Clarke keeps the secrets unfolding right up until the end but they remain surprising not predictable. Swimming at Night is entertaining and a quick read; in that once you start you’ll keep going to the last page.
But first, you need to understand that it’s never as simple as one event, one person, one decision.