Tasmania’s isolated landscape propels plot in Jane Harper's ‘Survivors’

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To most people, “The Survivors” is an iron monument to the 54 passengers and crew killed in a shipwreck more than a century ago just outside Evelyn Bay, Tasmania, south of Australia’s mainland. The memorial also is a testament to three families who are survivors of more recent losses. Two young men launching their fishing business were killed 12 years ago when their catamaran wrecked during the worst storm the area ever had — the same day a 14-year-old girl vanished.

Elegantly plotted with an evocative look at the area, “The Survivors” is a strong tale about surviving the ravages of guilt, grief, economic downturns and the tensions that can erupt from living in a tight-knit yet claustrophobic community. In each of her novels, Australian native Jane Harper explores a different part of the country, as unique a force as any character.

Sports physiotherapist Kieran Elliott, his girlfriend, Mia Sum, and their 3-month-old daughter, Audrey, have returned to Evelyn Bay from Sydney to help his mother pack up the family home before they move his dementia-afflicted father into a nursing home. Myriad emotions taint the visit — Kieran’s brother Finn was one of the men killed in that 12-year-old wreck, which may have been caused because Finn and his friend Toby were trying to rescue Kieran.

Kieran’s presence makes the memory of that wreck more prominent, and mixed emotions swirl around his reunion with his parents and his friends. The feelings of guilt and grief are exacerbated when college student and budding artist Bronte Laidler is murdered.