Review: “The Survivors” by Jane Harper

The Survivors by Jane Harper book cover
Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

She could – almost – have been one of The Survivors. Standing there, outlined by the weak light, her back turned and the salt water lapping at her feet. Then she moved.

The Survivors, Prologue opening

Author: Jane Harper
Publication Date: September 22nd 2020
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

Coming home dredges up deeply buried secrets…

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 community he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. 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…

From Goodreads

Review

TW: dementia, suicide

The Survivors is a haunting mystery set in a small town on the Tasmanian coast. Main character Kieran returns to his hometown with his wife and small child to help his parents pack for moving. His father’s dementia has progressed faster than expected, requiring extra care and support. Being back along the ocean and snaking waterside caves dredges up painful memories of lives lost twelve years ago for which Kieran still blames himself. His own older brother was among those lost that fateful day. Now the small town is rocked once more as a woman turns up dead on the beach in the chill morning hours. Kieran and those in the community consider who could have done such a brutal murder, and whether ghosts of the past have come back to haunt them.

This is a slower read, built up around uncovering the past, coping with guilt and blame, and rooting out the secrets that lurk in the murky air above the town. There isn’t a ton of intense action in the story, which lends me to categorize it more as a mystery than thriller, but there’s plenty of questions to entertain reader’s attention. The setting is atmospheric in the cool off-season at the beach and around the quaint community. Statues ominously watch over the death-tainted water, and a woman desperately throws rock-laden backpacks into the depths hoping against reason to prove something. The air is heavy with secrets, guilt, and blame. Meanwhile a killer may well reside among them.

A lot of great topics are covered in the story leading up to the intense ending. Kieran uses swimming as a positive coping mechanism for his past trauma and finds support from his loving wife and child. He and his mom also deal with the onset of the father’s dementia which is heartbreaking. But in the challenges there are moments where they come to appreciate not only what they had but even the small peaceful moments with their loved one as they are now, which is beautiful. Finally, with the possibility of a killer roaming among them the author subtly calls out differences Kieran’s comfort walking late at night compared to the anxiety and well-justified self-preservation instinct his wife and other women feel. This note regarding the implications of gender on safely walking late at night is so important and strongly resonates always, but is an especially potent callout on violence against women with recent events in news e.g. Sarah Everard’s murder.

I’d recommend this as an enjoyable read for those looking for a slower mystery/thriller book with a chilly beach setting and positive incorporated messages.

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