All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Survivors by Jane Harper

on September 23, 2020

The Survivors
Jane Harper
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 384p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.

The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea, that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2020, so much so that I pre-ordered a copy on iBooks, because at the moment I can’t go anywhere to buy books and I didn’t want to wait. The mail at the moment is notoriously slow – it could be weeks before I would’ve received an ordered physical copy and I wasn’t interested in waiting that long to read this!

Kieran Elliott grew up in Evelyn Bay, a small town on the coast of Tasmania. When he was a teenager, their area experienced a freak, once in a lifetime type of storm that ravaged the community, taking several lives. Kieran now lives in Sydney but he, his partner Mia and their baby Audrey are back for a visit, right at the end of the holiday season. Kieran has been away a long time and he’s aware that he still gets a few looks in the town. He still has some friends there though, people he knew in high school and his parents are just preparing for a move that will take them away from Evelyn Bay and to Hobart, due to his father’s health. Kieran is only back in town a short time when a young woman, a student working over the summer, is found on the beach. It brings a police investigation, with officers from Hobart and there are questions, suspicions. Is this most recent tragedy somehow linked to what happened all those years ago?

I’ve never been to Tasmania but Jane Harper took me there, to a small coastal town battered by wind and waves and weather that comes from the southernmost part of the world. Evelyn Bay is the sort of quiet community that swells population wise over the summer as people come to enjoy the beaches. A lot of the business is seasonal, people needing to make as much as they can over those good months, picking up odd jobs to make ends meet when the weather turns. Tasmania is capable of some pretty savage winters especially by Australian standards.

In some ways this is quite a classic psychological thriller/mystery: someone returning to their hometown, the scene of a tragedy. A town with people still torn up with grief. And then, a modern day event that causes all the locals to start looking sideways at each other, wondering… someone they know capable? Did their neighbour, their work colleague, their brother, their husband etc, murder a young woman on a dark and lonely beach at night?

The build for this is excellent. Kieran is about 30 now but he still bears the scars of what happened to him when he was just a teenager. He’s worked hard to overcome the troubles that day brought and he has a partner and baby to anchor him now but the guilt is always there. I thought the way in which Kieran’s family tiptoed around each other, he and his mother, how they had conversations without ever actually saying anything, was so well done. Likewise, the build of tension around the town after Bronte’s body is discovered, the muttered asides, the sniping on the local community online message board. The presence of cops from Hobart make some people nervous but they also make some people angry. There’s a lot of characters with unresolved issues from the storm. Kieran is back in his hometown, the town he grew up in, sleeping in the same room he grew up in, socialising with the same people he went to school with. But things are so different and that easy camaraderie is interrupted by the events both past and present.

A lot of this is subtle, I have to admit I got to the reveal and didn’t know who was going to be outed and I sort of thought that although the build was incredible, the actual culprit was maybe a bit of a choice that felt uneventful? But I’m not sure now, the more I think on it, the more I see how choices made in the spur of the moment can have such long-reaching effects, how young people can make decisions that backfire and mean they carry guilt and remorse for decades. Maybe even a lifetime. It’s the sort of book where the more you reflect on it, the more clever and subtle it feels, the clues are there once you know and bits and pieces kept coming to me after I finished the book.

I saw it announced yesterday that the rights for this have been sold to make a TV series and I think it will make an incredible adaptation, especially if they get the setting and storm scenes right. It has the potential to really tell a compelling visual story.

An excellent read, consistent with what I’ve come to expect from Jane Harper.


Book #190 of 2020

The Survivors is book #74 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

4 responses to “Review: The Survivors by Jane Harper

  1. Really looking forward to reading this one!

  2. Marg says:

    I am very much looking forward to this one!!

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