I generally don’t post reviews on this blog, but I’ve just finished reading Jane Harper’s latest book The Survivors and as I added it to my reading journal I noticed it’s the 100th book I’ve read and finished this year. It is also one of a small number that I’ve marked as Excellent and so for both these reasons I felt it deserved some comments here.
It’s rare for me to spend a lot of time reading during the day — I tend to suffer from this kind of I-should-be-writing-or-working-or-doing-something-like-work guilt complex even though I tell myself that it is research, but I just had to find out how this book finished.
Like Harper’s other three novels this is categorised as a mystery/crime novel, but like the others, it is as much a character study of people in crisis as it is a murder mystery. The setting is a small coastal town in Tasmania, Australia. Harper has set each of her books in locations beset with challenges and this one is no different although initially, it feels different as there is no dry small town or outback setting. The challenges here are the ocean, tides, caves, and storms every bit as deadly as the outback. Again, like her other novels, the setting impacts the story profoundly and acts much like another character.
Kieran, the narrator for most of the book, is one of those who feels the guilt of the day a dozen years before when his brother Finn and a good friend Toby drowned during a horrific storm. This is Kieran’s first visit back to the town in many years and the weight of guilt bears down on him as Finn and Toby died attempting to rescue him.
Harper subtly drops in morsels of backstory at just the right time, sometimes barely a sentence and on other occasions a paragraph, but all are just what you need to know at exactly the right time. Kieran has only been back in town a day when a young woman’s body is found on the beach and gradually we learn that Finn and Toby weren’t the only casualties during the day of the storm, but that in addition a young teenage girl went missing and was never found.
If you are looking for a fast, action-packed thriller then this book is not for you, but if you enjoy twisty slow-burner mysteries with strong settings and characters wrapped up in a murder story then you should enjoy this book. Harper weaves past and present seamlessly, showing the many and varied ways past-guilt impacts people and how it displays in their present grief and actions. The guilt comes not only from actions taken but also those not taken, from loss, and perceived responsibility for the shocking events that happened during the storm. The plot is centred on family and friends and small-town attitudes, but it also shows how individual opinions and viewpoints can change between teenage years and adulthood especially with distance from the events, both geographically and in time.
Harper’s previous book The Lost Man is still my favourite of her novels, but this is a story I can highly recommend and one I will certainly revisit.