The Survivors by Jane Harper: A review
Harper's books are often set in some of the bleakest places Australia has to offer, such as the Outback. This one takes us to Tasmania, to a little town on the coast called Evelyn Bay. It is the town where Kieran Elliot grew up and where twelve years before he was involved in a tragedy that changed his and several other lives forever.
Since then he had moved to Sydney and made a new life for himself with his girlfriend, Mia. They now have a young baby daughter. But Kieran and his family have been drawn back to Evelyn Bay and all the memories it holds by the needs of his parents. His father, Brian, is suffering from dementia, and his mother, Verity, is no longer able to care for him at home. He will have to go into a care home that is able to deal with his problems. Kieran is there to help with the transition.
When Kieran meets some of his old mates at the Surf & Turf, all the bad memories from twelve years ago are brought back. Back then he had been infatuated with Olivia and they would meet in a cave on the coast for hanky-panky. One day they met there oblivious to the fact that high tide was coming and although Olivia made it out, Kieran was trapped and in danger of being drowned. Olivia put out a distress call, and Kieran's brother and his brother's best friend who were out in their boat turned to try to rescue him. The boat foundered in the huge wave and both men were killed.
Meanwhile, a 14-year-old girl named Gabby was also out there somewhere and was trapped by the wave. Her body was never found, but her backpack washed ashore, and she was presumed drowned. Kieran was finally able to scramble out and lived to blame himself for his brother's death. So did many others, including the young son of his brother's friend who died with him.
The tragedy of the three deaths was almost more than the town could bear. When Kieran returns to the town years later, the son of his brother's friend is now working at the Surf & Turf and his resentment of Kieran has not lessened. Working alongside him at the pub is a young woman named Bronte who also happens to be Olivia's roommate. The next day, Bronte's body is found along the shore. She had been murdered. Was her death somehow related to the deaths from years ago? She was new to the town and appeared to have no enemies. Who would have wanted to kill her?
Harper develops her narrative with care and at times I was flummoxed, wondering how does all of this connect? But in the end, it did and I appreciated her multi-layered characterizations and the realism with which she depicted a family and a town struggling with grief. The broken lives, especially that of Kieran, were described so honestly and genuinely that one could easily relate to the pain which they felt. When a visitor to the town provides an explanation that offers some reprieve to Kieran's pain, it also offers a sigh of relief for the reader.
The ending, not to give away any spoilers, is emotional and utterly heartbreaking. But perhaps the town of Evelyn Bay as well as Kieran and his family can finally heal.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars