The Survivors (2020) – Jane Harper

Title:The Survivors
Author:Jane Harper
Publisher/s:Little, Brown/Jonathan Ball Publishers
Date published:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The coastal town of Evelyn Bay, Australia is bordered by seemingly endless natural caves and watched over by The Survivors – three sculpted statues built into the rocks that watch over the local people, and disappear temporarily whenever the tide pushes in.

Twelve years ago a massive storm ravaged the little town, leaving in its wake a lot of damage, and a lot of broken hearts. Kieran Elliot hasn’t been home in almost three years, and the only reason he’s back in Evelyn Bay now is that his parents Verity and Brian, have finally decided to move out of his childhood home – Brian’s dementia has been progressing rapidly, and they’ve finally decided that a nursing home in Hobart will be the best place for him. Kieran reluctantly arrives back home with his girlfriend Mia (who also grew up in Evelyn Bay) and their baby daughter Audrey.

Other than his closest friends, there are a lot of people in Evelyn Bay that aren’t too happy to see Kieran back in town. Twelve years ago Kieran’s older brother Finn drowned in that terrible storm, along with his best friend Toby. The two young men had been on their way to rescue Kieran who had found himself trapped in the caves when the storm hit. Toby left behind a young son, Liam when he died, and Kieran’s parents have not gotten over their eldest son’s death. Kieran knows that Liam blames him for his father’s death, a man he never had the opportunity to really get to know, and somehow every since his brother drowned he has felt his parents can’t quite forgive him either.

On the day of the storm the town did not just lose Finn and Toby at sea, but a young girl named Gabby also went missing that day. Her body was never found, and the only evidence they found was her backpack that washed up onto shore days later. Gabby also just so happened to have been Mia’s best friend and was the younger sister of Olivia, another one of Kieran’s good friends.

Coming home brings with it a host of bitter-sweet emotions, as Kieran reunites with his oldest friends – Ash, Olivia, and Sean, who all lost someone in that storm, and watches as his father struggles through dementia. Liam is openly hostile towards Kieran, but being only 19 Kieran feels it to be expected and doesn’t begrudge Liam his anger.

As Kieran finds himself visiting old haunts and struggling to help his mother pack up her whole life and still take care of a husband who remembers nothing, a young girl working as a waitress at the local restaurant and bar The Surf and Turf is found dead on the beach a few days after Kieran and Mia’s arrival.

The sudden death of Bronte, the young waitress who was living in Evelyn Bay temporarily whilst she worked on her art for her degree, dredges up a lot of suspicion and rage in the quiet community, especially when it is revealed that her death was not an accident. As the tension in the bay mounts, fingers begin to point toward others that are recently new to Evelyn Bay, including Kieran himself and a famous mystery writer who has moved into town.

The local police led by a long-time resident of Evelyn Bay Sergeant Chris Renn, are being aided by Detective Inspector Sue Pendlebury from the town of Hobart to find out what happened, and their suspicions that the murderer may be a local resident have the people of Evelyn Bay determined to prove to the police that it has to be an outsider.

As tensions in the town build, it becomes increasingly clear to Kieran that both Renn and Pendlebury know something that the public do not, and that it might just have something to do with the decade-long mystery over the disappearance of 14-year-old Gabby Birch. Fingers begin to point towards Liam who had a crush on Bronte and was seen driving her home the night she was allegedly murdered, and Kieran’s own father Brian, it turns out, was the last person to see Gabby alive all those years ago, long before his dementia had kicked in.

Harper is an incredible writer of psychological thrillers set in inhospitable territories, where the wrath of nature is just as frightening as the people that inhabit these spaces. The Survivors is a novel about a small community haunted by a past tragedy and almost torn apart by a new tragedy – one that cannot be blamed on a rogue storm.

This novel is an atmospheric tale of human trauma and the grief that settles within families like an incurable disease, set on the windswept beaches of a little piece of Australian coastline that will have the reader paging voraciously through it, only to gasp at its shattering and heart-breaking conclusion.

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