Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Survivors

The Survivors by Jane Harper
2/2/21; 384 pages
Flatiron Books

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 stars

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Flatiron Books

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