Source: Review copy
Publication: 21 January 2021 from Little Brown
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still 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 in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…
It is the fantastic writing that draws me to Jane Harper’s books and in this one the writing is exceptional. The Survivors is all about the characters; the lives they have led, the secrets they share, the guilt they feel and the need to bring old wounds to the surface to be healed.
The Survivors is a beautifully drawn, detailed study of four friends, Kieran, Olivia, Ash and Sean who once played and swam together until tragedy struck and Kieran lost his brother. Mia’s best friend Gabby disappeared that day and Sean’s brother, Toby also died. Time moved on and Kieran moved away. Now he his partner Mia and their baby daughter have come back to Evelyn Bay on the rugged Tasmanian Coast. Kieran’s father Brian has dementia and he has come home to help Verity, his mother, pack up the house and move him into a care home.
Coming home brings a welter of emotions for Kieran. Returning to Evelyn Bay brings back so many memories, not the least being the night his brother died – a night he has always blamed himself for. For Kieran had gone out 12 years ago to a cave he knew he should not be in and when the storm blew up two men, one of them Kieran’s brother, took the boat out and went looking for Kieran and perished in the sea while Kieran survived. Kieran knows that people still blame him for the lives lost that night.
Heading into the bar that has stood in Evelyn Bay since their youth, Kieran and Mia meet Olivia and find that she and Ash are now together. Sean’s nephew Liam is working there, along with Bronte Laidler, an art student who has taken temporary work to bring her close to the sea which is the focus of her artistic endeavours.
Liam especially bears a grudge against Kieran. He blames him for the loss of his father that night and his anger has been smouldering just under the surface every day of the last 12 years.
When the young waitress Bronte is found murdered on the beach, the memories of that unforgettable day resurface and all the emotions, too.
Harper does not so much write as paint her characters. The chiaroscuro gives a vivid impression of these characters, adding to the drama and imbuing them with strong emotional overtones. The suspicion hangs heavy in the air, the sly suggestions swirl around as Sean struggles to assert himself as an adult male and Kieran wrestles with his guilt so palpably.
Central to the success of this book is the seascape dominated by the tide, by rough waves and storms. Here the cruel sea reigns and the birds seemingly harbingers of doom as the cold deadly water lashes against the rocks and the caves gape their dark open mouths wide the better to swallow up travellers. No-one does atmosphere like Jane Harper.
Chilling then, in more ways than one, The Survivors is a brilliantly told story of complex characters struggling with truth, lies and guilt. Told mainly in Kieran’s voice, The Survivors starts slowly and draws you in, alternating present day with some flashbacks to give you a hint of what happened from Kieran’s perspective until he reveals everything from his memory. Tension suffuses this novel and as it builds to a crescendo, you wonder whether the waves will dash everything to dust or whether there will be survivors once again.
Verdict: Jane Harper’s best book yet. Atmospheric, intense, chilling and so beautifully and powerfully descriptive it’s like clinging adrift in a tiny boat as the seas buffet you around. So good.
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Jane Harper is the author of international bestsellers The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man. Her books are published in more than 35 territories worldwide.
Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year, the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year and the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Yea