In a relatively short time, Jane Harper has established herself as a must-read author within the crime fiction community. With stories that feature complex characters and compelling plots, fans know they can count on her fiction to sweep them away from the world for the time it takes to consume them and leave them thinking about things for days to follow. After two connected books (The Dry and Force of Nature), Jane Harper released her first stand-alone mystery (The Lost Man) in 2019 and now follows that up with another stunning stand-alone called The Survivors.
The first thing readers notice about novels by Jane Harper is how important the natural world is to her plotting. The drought that serves as the backdrop for her debut fuels every decision in The Dry. Likewise, Force of Nature would be a very different book were it not set in the lush and dangerous Giralang Range wilderness. Even The Lost Man draws readers into its unique setting – a vast cattle ranch deeply isolated within the Australian outback. So, it will be no surprise how significant nature and setting are to her latest novel.
In the case of The Survivors, it is the sea that takes prominence. Evelyn Bay is an area dependent on its proximity to water – both in positive and negative ways. As a testament to this, a solemn statue stands guard out in the water marking the location of the sunken Mary Minerva. This monument can be seen – albeit differently – from beach to cliff, and always serves as a reminder of the past for townsfolk native to the area.
It is in this setting that readers are introduced to Kieran Elliott. Kieran and his girlfriend Mia have returned to the town of their childhood, bringing with them their infant girl. Kieran fled the area after his older brother was killed in a sea-faring accident, but with his father now suffering from dementia, Verity (the matriarch) needs help packing up the family’s belongings. Reunited with friends from his youth, Kieran begins to relax, thinking the visit will be less stressful than he imagined. That is, until a dead body is discovered on the beach one morning, opening old wounds that never healed.
The police begin to make connections between the death of this aspiring photographer and events that took place in Evelyn Bay years prior. Jane Harper has no interest in speeding her story along and instead draws readers into the atmosphere of the place and once again makes them care about the characters in ways that are rarely seen in crime fiction. Her prose writing is addictive and her ability to convey labyrinthine emotions almost unparalleled. In The Survivors in particular, it is the juxtaposition of grand scale tragedy with small-town life that feels fresh and innovative, but the heart of the story rests squarely on grief, guilt, and forgiveness.
Jane Harper knows how to build a mystery and in The Survivors the storyline allows for multiple possible solutions to the central case, forcing readers to constantly re-evaluate the evidence in order to determine which solution is the most logical. While readers are likely to figure out elements of the case, because of the complexity involved it remains unlikely that all answers will be found before Jane Harper presents her dramatic denouement.
The Survivors is another triumph for Jane Harper – sure to please existing fans and create new ones as well. Whatever she does next, it will most certainly be exciting, excellent, and unforgettable.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.