Australian authorsBook Reviews

The Survivors by Jane Harper — melancholy tale of loss and guilt

Cover of The Survivors, an atmospheric crime novel set in a sleepy Tasmanian coastal town

Twelve years after he left Evelyn Bay burdened by guilt over his part in a tragedy, Keiran Elliot is back in town. He’s returned to the sleepy coastal town to help clear out his parents’ house and move his dad into a nursing home.

The summer visitors have departed Evelyn Bay by the time Kieran arrives with his partner and their baby daughter. The pace of life in this small Tasmanian town has returned to its usual gentle rhythm. But beneath the outward calm, there are hidden tensions.

Not everyone in Evelyn Bay is as pleased to see Kieran as his old friends Ash, Olivia and Sean. Some residents hold him responsible for the deaths of his older brother Finn and Sean’s brother Toby — they’d gone out to rescue Kieren in the midst of a ferocious storm but their boat hit submerged rocks and overturned. it was not the only tragedy to hit the town that day — Olivia’s 13-year-old sister Gabby also went missing, She was presumed drowned though her body was never recovered.

Memories of that fateful day are re-awakened when the body of another girl, an arts student and part-time waitress named Bronte, is found on the beach. As rumours spiral on the Evelyn Bay web forum, the community begins to fear there is a killer in their midst. One that might have been responsible for Gabby’s death yet gone undetected for twelve years.

Long buried secrets are revealed and old loyalties are put to the test in the days that follow before the truth is revealed.

The Survivors isn’t a very suspenseful novel. it has a measured thoughtful pace that comes to a satisfyingly surprise ending. I didn’t rate it as highly as Jane Harper’s first novel, The Dry, because I didn’t warm to the central character of Kieren. I actually found him annoyingly stupid at times — what kind of father takes a baby for a walk down a treacherous cliff path — and his deep interest in Bronte’s death is puzzling. He barely knew her — he met her on the beach on his first day home, and then again that night in the bar yet takes on the role of detective once her body is found.

Despite all that, I did enjoy the book and the way it weaves in themes of guilt, remorse and jealousy. Alongside that we get a a highly atmospheric tale. Jane Harper portrays the kind of town where life has a certain predictability. Everyone knows everything else about their neighbours, and those who are not born there, are regarded with a touch of suspicion.

The novel takes on a more melancholic, brooding tone when the action moves from the town centre to a network of caves that become submerged at high tide. Standing guard nearby are The Survivors — three life sized iron figures which look out to sea towards the spot where, many years earlier, 54 people drowned when their ship hit the rocks.

As the narrative flashes back to the day of the storm, we discover how close Kieren came to losing his own life in that same spot.

. . . they’d waded through the oily blackness. The relief as they hit open air had vanished immediately when they splashed out of the cave and into daylight that was more like night. The beach had disappeared. The peak of each wave reached his chest. His skin stung in the driving rain and the sea slapped high against the rock. The dark twin mouths of the caves inhaled huge lungfuls of water before spewing them out again, and the currents clawed at Kieran’s legs. . . Everything seemed different.”


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

14 thoughts on “The Survivors by Jane Harper — melancholy tale of loss and guilt

  • It wasn’t as good as The Dry, I agree.
    It’s a nice read but there are better crime fiction books out there.

    • It was a professional job (too many crime novels lack polish) but agree with you that it wasn’t one of the best I’ve read

  • I’ve only read – and enjoyed – one Jane Harper so far. You – and some commenters – have made this book seem not right up there as a Must Read. But certainly a May Read.

    • It wasn’t a poor novel by any means, just not one of the best

  • I had mixed feelings about this one. Mind you, Harper is the star turn at next week’s writers festival in Perth and I have booked a ticket (the venue is literally a 2 minute walk away, so no excuse not to go, really)

    • You can’t exactly claim the train/bus was late or that you had problems parking can you!
      Have you read her latest one Exiles? or maybe it’s Exile. Just wondering whether the quality is diminishing the more she writes and perhaps comes under pressure to come out with new books at rapid intervals?

  • Hello; a good and funny review. I like what you said about Kieran: “I found him annoyingly stupid at times”…; and this story seems more suspenseful from what you’ve described. I would not read this simply because; I have lots of books that are to be read; we attended a book sale today and purchased a bagful of books and I have yet to read those gotten last year at this same book sale because I am still trying to read those e-books of mine from last year and to make matters worse, last evening I went online to the library to request a book and found myself borrowing a couple more and the clock is ticking on those. I kind of like the challenge of due to expire and trying to beat the clock which I never do. The name Kieran is familiar to me because I worked with someone by that name decades ago; a Kieran Harrispad or such spelling and seeing the name Harper reminded me of the author Harper Lin’s book titled: “A Book to Kill For” that I’d read recently. I do go on and don’t make sense. A good review with some familiar twists. Thank you for sharing.

    • We all fall down that rabbit hole of buying more books even when we already have stacks of them unread at home. As for e-books, I’m afraid I tend to forget that I have them…

  • I kept wondering “Where’s Falk?” 😂 By the way, I started to share this on Twitter and your sharing buttons are not functioning for this post. ??? Maybe at my end?

      • Hummm….just tried again and can’t see a Twitter option… it must be me. Although I have tweeted other blogs this morning. Strange. Hopefully it’s limited to this one post!


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