The Survivors Club
Lisa Gardner has become one of my favorite suspense writers. I thought The Third Victim was fantastic psychological suspense, and while The Last Accident wasn’t quite as good, my faith is restored with The Survivors Club. It kept me absorbed and drew me into the story while I was trying to figure out the mystery.
Sergeant Roan Griffin, a widower and member of the Rhode Island state police, has just come back on duty after a year off on leave. You see, he tried to kill a suspect. Of course, said suspect was a pedophile who’d killed ten children, and oh, by the way, he was Griffin’s friend and next-door neighbor. Ouch. For his first case back, Griffin manages to catch a doozy – someone shot the College Hill Rapist on the opening day of his trial. Then the assassin was killed in an explosion. Who hired the assasin and why? The initial suspects are his three victims: Meg Pesaturo, a 19-year-old college student; Carol Rosen, a well-to-do middle aged housewife; and Jillian Hayes, a career woman in her 30s. Together they form the Survivor’s Club. As Griffin investigates the case, questions arise about the original rape case. Was Eddie Como, the dead suspect, indeed the College Hill Rapist, or was there a deeper plot?
There are some uncomfortable scenes here. As the initial chapters open, each woman remembers her attack. And while each attack is not depicted as graphically as they might have been, the descriptions are powerful enough to make you squirm. There are also memories that plague Griffin, and those aren’t pleasant either. I’ve got to hand it to Gardner – she’s not overly graphic, but sparing the details still makes the reader quite uncomfortable.
The thing about Gardner’s books is that most of her characters are wounded in some way. The three women have major residual effects from their attacks. Jillian wasn’t actually raped, but her sister was and died as a result. Jillian has survivor’s guilt, among other things, and is the unofficial leader of the Survivor’s Club. Jillian’s the tough one of the group.
Poor Meg lost her memory with her rape. Meg is the youngest and seemingly most vulnerable of the group. Her whole life before the rape is a question. She remembers feelings but not facts, and her memory turns out to be a key to figuring out what’s going on.
Carol had marital problems before her rape, and they’ve just gotten worse. The Survivor’s Club members are the only people she can talk to. Carol also has a drinking problem to deal with on top of everything else. She’s more brittle than the others in the group and more likely to cause a scene.
Griffin has as much emotional baggage as the women. He’s had his time off to deal with his wife’s death and his rage, but some of it is still there beneath the surface. He’s a good cop, but he still has some emotional healing to do. And this case does not help. It pushes all his buttons, and when he finds out what is at the root of the case, it’s even worse than he thought it would be.
This is first and foremost a suspense novel. A relationship develops, but it’s definitely secondary to the suspense. Gardner throws in enough clues to let the reader figure certain things out, but she doesn’t quite let you get all the way in. At least I didn’t. I liked the way the women banded together to get the police to find a suspect. That the women might have hurried the authorities into getting the wrong man is an interesting thing for them to have to wrestle with. Unfortunately, that issue is barely touched on.
The chapters are each told from a different character’s point of view. It was a little distracting, but it also helped get a better sense of what each character was thinking, including the villains. The secondary characters were myriad, but most added something to the story, particularly Griffin’s counterpart from the city police and Tawnya, Eddie’s girlfriend.
This is a dark book but it’s worth the read if you’re a suspense fan and I believe it should have been Gardner’s hardcover debut (rather than The Next Accident). While I found the mystery absorbing and suspenseful, and was interested in the women dealing with the aftermath, I didn’t necessarily like all the characters I believe I was meant to like. The perceived lack of romance had no effect on my grade – I don’t downgrade suspense books for that. Compared to The Third Victim, which was a DIK for me, The Survivors Club is a good read, but not a great one.