Top positive review
The Queen of the Australian small-town contemporary thriller!
Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2020
The Survivors – Three imposing, iron, life-size figures erected on the furthered rocks out to sea. A tribute to the lives lost over a century ago when the SS Mary Minerva sank, they stand guard overlooking the site of the shipwreck.
The locals and tourists of the beachside Tasmanian town, Evelyn Bay, recall the dreadful date the storm hit. Rumoured to be the worst weather in eighty years it caused widespread destructive and anguish, and worst of all, claimed three lives.
Twelve years on, Kieran Elliott (whose brother Finn was one of the victims of the storm) returns to Evelyn Bay, with his partner and baby in tow, to help his parents move. Blaming himself for the part he played in Finn's death, Kieran fled town under a dark cloud, and this marks his first visit home in years. He's only been back a day when a body is found on the beach in suspicious circumstances, sparking fresh controversial, stirring up long held resentments and secrets, and causing Kieran to question everything he thought he knew about that fateful day.
The Survivors incorporated everything I love in my small-town mystery suspense. I was very invested in the characters wellbeing, so much so that I was sort of dreading the reveal of the person/s responsible. The final chapters were as chilling as they were emotional, and they definitely threw me for a loop. I'm still reeling, and The Survivors is a work of fiction that will stay with me for a long time.
Jane Harper is famous for using weather and landscape to establish and escalate mood, tension, and uneasiness, and The Survivors coastal setting perfectly captured the inner and outer turmoil, helplessness and despair the characters experienced. The vast, unpredictable, unforgiving nature of the sea, tides, and currents, and the notion that something beautiful, fun, tranquil and non-threatening can turn deadly in an instant, hammered home the trepidation. The ocean is known for hiding its secrets – anything from a wrecked ship, to an unrecoverable body, to a child's sun hat – just like the residents of Evelyn Bay. And just as quickly a secret can be exposed, sometimes an item thought to be lost forever at sea can suddenly inexplicably resurface. Furthermore, the word ‘sea’ is often associated with grief – which along with guilt and regret – was a prominent theme throughout. Moreover, the statues of The Survivors were affected by the tide – fully visible at low-tide, submerged to their waist at high tide, and on the day of the storm, completely obscured by raging water.
There was an element of superstition attached to The Survivors memorial since there were three figures constructed to commemorate the fifty-four victims of Mary Minerva, and coincidentally three locals died in the big storm nearly 100 years later. Some viewed the statues as cold looking and offensive – ever-present, watchful, looming over everything. Also included in the novel to further add to the creepiness were the cliff side caves on a lonely stretch of beach, with their endless passages, and shrieking seabirds, swooping and circling the entrance. Not to mention the Mary Minerva shipwreck itself.
The plot revolved around family, friendship, small town mentality, gossip, rumours, hardship, illness, the growth and maturity that occurs between teenage and adulthood, and how major life altering events can shape people for the better. Serious social issues of toxic masculinity, the damaging effects of hook-up culture, peer pressure, the downside of social media, sexism and narcissism were seamlessly interwoven.
Now I can't decide whether I prefer The Survivors or The Lost Man? Put simply, I hold both in such high esteem. Lovers of Jane Harper, and those new to her thrilling work, will devour The Survivors. Get reading!