Title: The Survivors
Author: Jane Harper
Published: 22nd September 2020, Macmillan
Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Macmillan/Netgalley
The Survivors is Jane Harper’s much anticipated fourth novel, a stand alone, slow burning mystery set on Tasmania’s coast.
Kieran Elliot, his girlfriend, Mia, and their infant daughter, have returned to Evelyn Bay to help his parents pack up their family home. It’s an uncomfortable homecoming for Kieran who still blames himself for the death of his older brother Finn, and Finn’s best mate, in a tragic accident during a violent storm. The same storm during which a fourteen year old girl disappeared, and was never found.
When a young woman’s body is discovered on the beach the day after they arrive, it seems the sea has claimed yet another victim, but investigators soon determine she was murdered, and as the search for her killer begins, the secrets of the past begin to unravel.
While the present day mystery in The Survivors revolves around the murdered girl, an art student/waitress with only a tangential link to Kieran, it’s her unwitting connection to the events twelve years previously amid the storm that marks her as the catalyst of this story. Unfolding from Kieran’s perspective, the story moves between the present and memories of the past. Well-considered red herrings distract as the plot takes unexpected twists, slowly revealing tightly kept secrets. But while I was intrigued by the story, and really had no idea who would be found responsible for the murder, I felt there was a distinct lack of tension in the novel, not helped by the conservative pacing, leading to what was an anticlimactic conclusion.
Harper’s characterisation of Kieran is compelling though, with a nuanced portrayal of a man burdened with grief and guilt. The supporting characters are sufficiently fleshed out to suit their role in the story, though few feel like active participants. I thought the dynamics of a small community under stress were well illustrated, and uniquely communicated through the town’s online forum.
The story is undeniably atmospheric, with Harper masterfully conjuring a brooding seaside town during the off-season, perched above deserted cliff-side beaches and dark, echoey caves slowly filling with cold, creeping waves. The sea becomes a pitiless thing, claiming the innocent and guilty alike.
The Survivors is perhaps not as thrilling a mystery as I had expected, but it is involving, evocative and affecting.
Available from Pan Macmillan Australia
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Also by Jane Harper reviewed at Book’d Out