When I was in middle school, my Florida cousin and I went to stay with our grandmother for a week. It turned out that my cousin and I both loved Christopher Pike novels (this was the 1990s) and our grandmother took us to a bookstore and treated us each to a book.
I devoured my book in an afternoon. My cousin doled out her book in drips and drabs, making it last the entire week. I have never been able to do that. This is not to say that some (many) books don’t take me a long time to read; I loved Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, but it took me fifteen days to read.
But some books. Some books, I just cannot put down. Even if I want to savor them, draw them out. I just can’t help gulping them down as quickly as possible.
Jane Harper’s books are like that. The Survivors is her most recent and I read it in just under two days, and that’s only because I had to do non-reading things like eat and shower and exercise and care for my offspring.
Mini Plot Summary: Kieran and Mia take their infant daughter back to their hometown of Evelyn Bay to help Kieran’s parents pack up their home. Back home with his parents, among his old friends, Kieran can’t help but dredge up feelings about a dark tragedy from his past. Then, a body turns up on the beach – and old secrets begin to rise to the surface.
What I Liked About this Book: As with each of Harper’s previous books, The Survivors has such a strong sense of place. The story takes place in the invented township of Evelyn Bay, on the coast of Tasmania. It is a setting as different from the bone-dry desert of The Lost Man as you can get, I think, but Harper excels at making the landscape feel like a character unto itself. The moody sky, the changeable sea, even the wind all add incredible atmosphere to this novel.
The plot, I would say, is somewhat predictable. Which is not a criticism! I absolutely love mystery stories, and one of my great pleasures in reading them is trying to solve them as we go along. (I though all readers did this as they read, but I know people who simply let the book unfold without speculating, which honestly blows my mind.) As long as a book is well-written and the resolution feels inevitable and real, I love solving a mystery before the solution is revealed. In fact, I feel very smug indeed when the murderer turns out to be exactly who I think it is. I got to feel smug after reading The Survivors, which is very satisfying. But! Despite knowing whodunit ahead of time, there were several times when I was genuinely surprised by a plot twist in this book. I love that too! Being surprised is awesome. Plus, even though I had guessed the outcome, my heart was still pounding in trepidation at several points throughout the book.
What I Didn’t Like About This Book: Harper drops these little breadcrumbs along the way to allow you to solve the mystery… clues, I suppose you would call them, in a mystery book. But she also drops additional clues to mislead you. I love that part of it – that you can follow this clearly-marked path of clues straight to a red herring. She’s really good at it. But… in this case, I was a little frustrated because the red herring clues seemed to be ONLY a red herring. They didn’t serve their own purpose, and we didn’t get any reasonable explanation for their insertion into the story. That was a little disappointing.
I also felt like there were so many opportunities to flesh out more of the characters that never came to fruition. This relates, in part, to what I just said about the red herring being only a red herring and nothing real. But it also relates to other characters. For instance, if you say, a couple times in fact, that Person A has such-and-such a personality defect, then I kind of want to see that borne out.
And, finally – I will try to say this in a non-spoiler way, but perhaps hop on down to the next paragraph if you don’t want even a PARTIAL spoiler – we never really discover what happened at the end. We are left to draw some conclusions… but… I guess I want hard evidence. And if there’s no hard evidence, I want to know where it went.
By the way, these criticisms in no way diluted my enjoyment of the book. I gobbled it up and cannot wait to read whatever Harper writes next.
Should You Read This Book? If you are a fan of solid, atmospheric writing and good old-fashioned mysteries with a nice dollop of family drama thrown in, you will like this book. I have no doubt.