Warning: The book that I am about to review deals with sexual assault.
Critics alike have called Lisa Gardner the “Queen of Suspense.” I have heard a lot about this author, but I have never read any of her books, until now. After reading Gardner’s 2002 novel The Survivors Club, I can see why that particular title has been bestowed upon her. The book contains a lot of twists and turns with a lot of depth.
The Survivors Club revolves around three women – Jillian Hayes, Carol Rosen, and Meg Pesaturo. They call themselves the Survivors Club after Eddie Como allegedly rapes them. They help the investigation by finding and catching him. However, on the first day of the trial, he is murdered, and the women are now prime suspects. Detective Sergeant Roan Griffin comes on the case, knowing that even the best people can cross the line. He must find out if one of these women was pushed over the edge, or if someone else wanted to make sure that no one survives the Survivors Club.
Rape is never an easy subject, but much like John Green with mental illness, Gardner gives the upmost appropriate weight to this topic. Those scenes are depicted in flashbacks, and they are pretty graphic. The assaults are dealt with at the beginning of the novel to focus more on their effects. Each of the women suffers a form of loss after their attacks. One loses her sister, another loses her memory, and the third loses her mind. All of them spend a year talking about their assailant, yet when he is killed, they all feel, in one form or another, not satisfied.
The characters themselves are highly three dimensional. On the surface, Jillian is a strong, independent woman, who always knows what to say and do, hence she is the leader of the Survivors Club. However, she is haunted by the image of her dead sister and regrets not being there earlier to defend her from the attacker. Meg, who lost her memory, spends a good chunk of the novel trying to regain it and figure out why she lost it in the first place. Even Detective Griffin is a fully formed character. After an 18-month leave (his wife died of cancer), he comes back to take on the case surrounding the Survivors Club, but he has to keep his emotions in check, especially when he has to obtain some leads from a criminal who once lived next door to him. Even though these elements are appetizers to the main course, they make the novel all the more interesting.
Every suspense novel contains twists and turns, and their effectiveness depends on whether or not readers see them coming. Luckily, I did not see the ones that occur in The Survivors Club coming. I am not going to spoil them, but they were some of the most out-of-left-field twists that I have encountered. It helps that none of them were loudly hinted at or easily put together (take note Fiona Barton!). In fact, a lot of them were misleading, and that tone was perfectly established at the very beginning.
Some reviewers noted that it starts off kind of slow in the beginning. I agree with that, yet it didn’t bother me since it establishes a lot of the characters and the main plot. In addition, the last 100 pages pick up the slack. It’s one of the most gripping finales that I have ever read as it hooked me for three consecutive nights. However, if there is one thing to complain about, it’s the confusion of who is telling the story. I mean, I know that it is in third person, yet every chapter’s title is a character’s name. What makes this unclear is that the focus is not always on the person whose name is mentioned at the beginning of each chapter. From what I have read, fans have mentioned that Gardner has mainly used 1-2 narrators in her subsequent novels, so I like to think that she knew about that puzzlement.
Overall, The Survivors Club by Lisa Gardner is a great suspense novel. It contains twists and turns that I guarantee that no one will see coming and other elements that make it more dimensional than the average suspense novel. I would definitely recommend it to Lisa Gardner fans who have not read it yet and to general suspense fans as long as they are fine with the subject. The book proved to me to why Gardner is considered the “Queen of Suspense!”
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