Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Survivors by Jane Harper


I'm absolutely thrilled I was able to actually read all of my February TBR books. It seems like a long time since I've been able to meet my monthly reading goal. The Survivors was my last read, and I powered through it the past few days. Once I got past the first hundred pages, it wasn't hard to stick with it until the very last shocking reveal.

You should know I've read three of Jane Harper's novels, and her first novel, The Dry, remains one of my favorite books to recommend to readers. I read it and realized I was reading something amazing. Jane Harper's ability to create a setting that becomes a character in her thrillers is something that sets her novels apart. Nature--whether it's a summer of drought and dust, or a forest where the rainy season keeps it wet and miserable for weeks--or, in the case of The Survivors--a small beach town in Tasmania where the ocean dictates every day life; nature is always big, present, and demanding. 

The Survivors takes place in the small beach town of Evelyn Bay. The tourist season is rapidly ending, and Kieran and his partner Mia, along with their baby Audrey, return to help Kieran's mom and dad pack up to move away from Evelyn Bay. His father, Brian, is suffering from dementia, and his parents can't live in the beach community as his condition grows worse. Kieran hasn't been back for years. Twelve years before, a horrible event took place that has haunted him, his family, and the community. Twelve years before, Kieran's brother Finn and his friend Toby were killed in a terrible boating accident during a freak storm. They were killed trying to rescue Kieran, who was in danger of being swept out to sea. Not only were they killed, but at the same time, young Gabby went missing, and was never found. The storm was a bizarre, once in a generation storm that took everyone by surprise, and in all of the chaos, a lot of questions went unanswered. Gabby's disappearance has always left a huge question mark hanging over Evelyn Bay. 

Now it's twelve years later, and the memory of that storm and the loss of life still haunts Evelyn Bay, and effects Kieran's relationship with his parents, who blame him for their son's death. Kieran's friends from childhood-Olivia and Ash, as well as other familiar faces, gather to reminisce and welcome Kieran back. 

Another horrible death soon happens. Bronte, a waitress at the local Surf and Turf restaurant, is found dead on the beach-drowned. She was living with Olivia, and working on an art project over the summer. Shaken by another death in the community, Bronte's murder evokes that horrible summer twelve years before, and everyone starts looking at each other, trying to figure out who did it and why. Does Bronte's death have any connection to Gabby's disappearance?

The atmosphere in this novel is definitely well drawn out. I could feel the freezing ocean water, the strong currents, and the lure of the water. Everything is tied to the ocean-it is a place that gives life, and also takes it away pretty swiftly. Kieran swims daily in order to be able to cope with his guilt over his brother's death; but always just under the surface is the knowledge that the water is capable of turning on anyone who enters its depths. As the investigation goes on, it seems like there is no way Bronte's murder will be solved--and certainly no way it is connected to the tragic events of years ago. Yet somehow the author weaves a story that will keep you guessing as memories, photos, and secrets are slowly exposed and dots are connected. I was surprised at the ending--the who and the why, for sure. 

If you like reading thrillers that build slowly, incorporate the whims of nature, and don't necessarily guarantee a  satisfactory happy ending, you will like The Survivors. The uneasiness, small-town tension, and grief thread throughout the story and make it really hard to put down. It would make a good book discussion. 

Rating: 4/6 for a thriller that keeps you guessing while the tension builds and you keep moving towards an ending that will not be what you expect. Harper's use of nature as a character is brilliant and adds an extra dimension to her plot. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

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