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The Survivors by Steve Braunias

Aotearoa New Zealand’s award-winning true crime writer Steve Braunias returns with more mysteries of human nature. In The Survivors, he shares 12 unusual stories of how people choose to survive their own lives. 


Drawing from two decades of courtroom reporting, Steve presents a series of characters whose lives are marked by extraordinary circumstances. 


In the very first sentence, Steve explains this is his final work in a trilogy of true-crime books. He is officially done covering other people’s worst nightmares, he says. He admits crime wasn’t a subject he was necessarily interested in, until he attended his first editorial meeting as a newly hired writer at the Sunday Star Times. When it came to his turn to discuss ideas he recalled the lead story on the TV news the night prior, the trial of the drug-fuelled samurai sword killer Antoine Dixon. Steve’s next six weeks were spent following the trial in court!  


The theme of this book is the last thing we are concerned with in our lives; survival, primarily the survival of our own lives, decisions, desires, impulses and failings, he says. It’s something Steve thought about a lot when he observed the court trials in this book. 


From chance meetings gone wrong, self-imposed exile and gruesome murders, Steve introduces us to a diverse range of intriguing characters. I was fascinated to learn of Volker Pilgrim who shunned life as an acclaimed author in Germany to wander the streets of Auckland. There’s a Holocaust survivor turned lawyer and a young French backpacker who took a day trip to Piha and never returned. And a late-night misunderstanding that led Chinese migrant Chen Chao to become a murderer. Plus, a singing cowboy, an outcast artist, a getaway driver and more.

The Survivors is a captivating exploration of human nature, delving into the myriad ways people navigate the complexity of their lives. It showcases Steve’s narrative skills in sharing each of the riveting stories. More importantly, it provides profound insights into the resilience of the human spirit. The Survivors is a must-read for true-crime lovers and those interested in the intricacies of human survival.

Steve Braunias is the author of 13 books, a writer for the New Zealand Herald and literary editor at Newsroom.

Reviewer: Andrea Molloy



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