With pedigree as a former news journalist, Jane Harper never buries the lead. Her books, fast becoming the defining novels of a new genre of Australian rural noir, always begin with a teasing clue, enticing the reader to inhale the succeeding pages to try to work it out before the barnstorming finish.
In her earlier bestsellers – her first novel, The Dry, has been turned into a movie starring Eric Bana and will be released in cinemas in early 2021 – Harper spotlights a different pocket of the regional Australian landscape, digging into the dark corners often hidden under the surface of country town charm.
Kieran Elliott doesn’t often return to his coastal Tasmanian hometown, where 12 years earlier his actions during a ferocious and fatal storm changed his family’s life forever. Separated as much by distance as the conversations they cannot broach, he returns to help his parents pack up their life. Now a father himself, Kieran and his partner Mia get barely a moment to enjoy the pleasant-yet-awkward reunion with childhood friends when the body of a young woman is washed up on the rocky shore. At first glance it seems impossible that the long-ago natural disaster and this crime could be connected, but there is more than one secret lurking in the dark undertow of this community.
Captivating opening pages aside, The Survivors is a slower burn than Harper’s early works and is testament to her ever-growing strengths as a novelist. This one is steeped in characterisation, with layers to the relationships between the characters often not seen in crime fiction unless there is a pressing connection to the plot. Many of its most intimate moments are not tied to the unfolding whodunit regarding the young woman on the beach, but rather the mysteries of human relationships and the complexities of guilt, blame and forgiveness.