The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Survivors

Jane Harper

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…


Kieran Elliott returns to Evelyn Bay on the Tasmanian coast to help his mother, Verity, pack up the family home as his father’s dementia is now at the stage where he needs more care. Kieran has built a new life in Sydney with his partner, Mia, and their baby daughter, Audrey, and although Mia also grew up in Evelyn Bay, neither consider it their home anymore. As Kieran meets with some familiar faces from his past, he realises the guilt he feels about the death of his older brother has never gone away and memories of the violent storm that claimed Finn’s life are around every corner. Twelve years ago, Kieran was caught in the caves on the coast when the storm hit and Finn was killed trying to rescue him. As Finn was their favourite son, Elliott’s parents have never been able to come to terms with his loss and Kieran is very aware they still blame him even if they don’t admit it.

Not long after Kieran arrives at his hometown, the residents are shocked when the body of a local waitress is found on the beach and her death is soon confirmed as murder. Bronte’s murder brings back painful memories of another girl, Gabby, who disappeared on the night of the storm and is presumed dead. As the rumour mill kicks into gear, uncomfortable assertions are made about Kieran’s father, Brian, who has a habit of wandering about at night due to his dementia. Brian was also one of the last people to see Gabby before her disappearance. As the police descend on the town, neighbours begin to turn on each other and long buried secrets are revealed.

The pace of this book is very slow and I have to admit I didn’t enjoy it as much as Harper’s previous books, even though there is a lot going on. The different relationships between the various members of the Elliott family are at the heart of this novel and their heartache is written very honestly. As Verity grapples with her husband’s dementia and the imminent loss of the family home, it is clear she has never really come to terms with the loss of her eldest son and her grief is palpable. Equally, Kieran has buried his guilt so deep he was able to forget about it for a while, however coming home to Evelyn Bay forces him into dealing with those buried emotions.

As usual, Jane Harper captures the feeling of hometown life in Tasmania expertly and the setting always adds a new dimension to her books. While the town of Evelyn Bay is fictitious, it feels very real and is full of quirky characters who are all dealing with their own problems and losses. The sea is also a powerful force which lends atmosphere as it is both a destructive and sinister presence.