Another year, another Merely Passable Jane Harper Novel.
I'll never understand why Jane Harper's hyper-hype runs ahead of her actual achievements. In my view, at least, she's never delivered a knock-it-out-of-the-park suspense-thriller, nor done anything to merit the apocalypto-buzz she gets. She's merely pretty good, in the way a hundred suspense-thriller author are who don't get one-one-hundredth of Jane Harper's marketing mania.
Comes now THE SURVIVORS. Nothing defective about it; nothing transcendent, either. It lopes along amiably in second gear, and while I generally find deliberate pacing more of a feature than a bug, being stuck in second gear for a long ride gets a little frustrating after a while. Especially in the case of THE SURVIVORS, which offers a stunning setting — the Tasmanian vacation town of Evelyn Bay — but with surprisingly little to actually look at.
Part of the problem of this story — in which connections slowly emerge between three deaths of young locals twelve years before and a more recent death, affecting the present-day lives of all who remain from that earlier — is that the cast feels overpopulated, and thus most of its members rarely register to any memorable effect for the reader. Each is flitted upon, like a bee to a flower, briefly as a possible suspect before the story moves on to the next red herring. That problem becomes apparent when the killer is revealed — and because we haven't gotten to know that person very well to that point, the big twist goes limp. (I firmly subscribe to the notion that a crime novel is only as strong as its villain.)
There's a scene late in the novel in which a character says: “There are a lot of people dragging up all kinds of things right now. A lot of chatter being flung around, and not all of it true or helpful.” That strikes me as extraordinarily prescient meta commentary on THE SURVIVORS.
That said, I wasn't bored by THE SURVIVORS, just underwhelmed. As I have been by the entirety of Jane Harper's oeuvre so far. So what explains the hype? I honestly don't get it. Feel free to educate me.