Skip to main content

The Survivors


The Survivors

Jane Harper has become something of a sensation in recent years. Her Australian-based mysteries combine tense, intricate plots with portraits of interesting and evocative places. Her latest novel, THE SURVIVORS, offers an equally compelling setting. This time, she takes us to Tasmania, to the fictional small coastal town of Evelyn Bay, which we soon come to know as intimately as if we had spent our own holiday there. It is a typical tourist town, characterized not only by picturesque scenery, but also by an elaborate coastal cave system and excellent scuba diving, the highlight being the opportunity to explore the remains of a shipwreck off the coast.

When we arrive in Evelyn Bay, the tourist season is winding down. Kieran, his partner Mia, and their infant daughter have come to help Kieran’s mother, Verity, prepare to relocate. Kieran’s dad, Brian, is battling dementia, and he’ll go to a care home while Verity will move nearby. Both Kieran and Mia grew up in Evelyn Bay, and they have mixed feelings about visiting, especially when the body of a young woman --- a college student and aspiring artist who has been waiting tables over the summer --- is found on the beach shortly after their arrival.

"With its intriguing plot and strong Tasmanian setting, THE SURVIVORS should help cement Harper’s reputation as one of the most interesting Australian writers working today."

Bronte’s death brings back a whole host of memories and unanswered questions, as the residents of Evelyn Bay recall a terrible tragedy from more than a decade earlier, when Kieran’s older brother, Finn, and his best friend and business partner were killed in a boating accident on the way to rescue Kieran, who had foolishly gotten trapped in the caves during a fast-moving storm. A teenage girl, Gabby, who had been Mia’s best friend at the time, also drowned, though her body has never been found.

Kieran, who’s been wracked with guilt over his role in Finn’s death, still contends with his grief and loss every day. His feelings of shame over what happened during what’s locally known as “the storm” have affected his relationship with his parents and his former friends, as well as his hometown. Evelyn Bay’s residents seem split between those who would rather tamp down their memories and those, like Gabby’s mother, who can’t let go of the past. Bronte’s death --- which could involve some of the same players responsible for the town’s earlier tragedy --- brings those two groups into conflict, aided by the toxic environment of the local Nextdoor-like local social network, where gossip and conspiracy theories run rampant.

One of the characters who helps crack the case is a crime writer who had been in Evelyn Bay teaching a workshop during the time of the storm and has since returned to buy a house in the wake of his divorce. One imagines that Harper enjoyed having an author play detective in her own mystery novel! THE SURVIVORS is perhaps not as immediately immersive as her prior efforts --- its large cast of characters and their intertwined personal histories take some time to establish --- but once readers become familiar with the main players, they’ll start to wonder (like that crime writer) if there might be some connection that brings together Evelyn Bay’s past and present and that might help Kieran finally move past his lingering guilt.

With its intriguing plot and strong Tasmanian setting, THE SURVIVORS should help cement Harper’s reputation as one of the most interesting Australian writers working today.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 5, 2021

The Survivors
by Jane Harper

  • Publication Date: January 11, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250232430
  • ISBN-13: 9781250232434