The Survivors by Jane Harper
2/2/21; 384 pages
The Survivors by Jane Harper is a very highly recommended novel of suspense.
Kieran Elliott, his partner, Mia, and their baby, Audrey, live is Sidney, but have returned to Evelyn Bay, on the Tasmanian coast. He has returned to help his mother pack up the house in preparation for selling it. His father, Brian, has dementia and needs to move into a nursing facility while his mother, Verity, will move somewhere nearby. Kieran and Mia meet that evening with Ash, Olivia, and Sean, at the Surf and Turf, a local eating establishment, where Olivia and her roommate, college student Bronte Laidler, are working. Returning to Evelyn Bay is a rare occurrence for Kieran. Twelve years ago he was involved in a tragedy during a terrible storm that resulted in the death of his brother Finn, and Sean's brother Toby. Olivia's younger sister, Gabby, also died that night. Kieran lives daily with guilt, feeling that Finn and Toby died because of him and there are others that share that sentiment.
The next morning Kieran discovers that Bronte was killed the night
before. She was an art student who was exploring the area for
inspiration over the summer before returning to school. By all
appearances she seemed to be well liked. As her murder is investigated,
rumors are swirling around on the community web pages, and secrets are
exposed, many locals wonder if her murder has any connection to the
deaths during the storm twelve years earlier.
Set on a coastal town where you have to respect the tides, with
sunken ships off the coast, a statue dedicated to ship wreck survivors
in the water, and dangerous sea caves off the shore, the atmospheric
setting feels ominous. Adding to the turmoil is the current
investigation and the various people who may be people of interest in
Bronte's murder. Harper introduces several suspects and raises doubts on
others as the plot unfolds. The writing is wonderful in this carefully
plotted and paced narrative. It does start out slow, after the discovery
of Bronte's body, but the pace allows you to catch clues and gossip,
from now and from the past. The ending moves quickly, intently, and was
unexpected until it happened.
Kieran is the narrator of the story and it starts out slow, almost as
if it is Kieran who needs to practice calming techniques before
continuing to observe the investigation and share details. He does have
several times where something is bothering him and we have to patiently
wait for what it is he observed and noted subconsciously. Almost all of
the characters have this careful, measured attitude where various regrets from the past are cohabitating with grief in the present.
Harper excels at creating very well-developed, complex, nuanced, and
contemplative characters. Even the minor characters feel real, like real
people you'd find in a small town. Everyone has their strengths and
weaknesses, but their virtues as well as their flaws are simply there,
as is found in anyone, anywhere. There are several scenes where the
emotions are so real and so raw it almost takes your breath away. 4.5