What do you think of Garnet’s assertion that “white is just a convenience for white people”?
People with multiple ethnicities, like Garnet, sometimes want to claim an identity, sometimes reject it. So does Reisden. Sometimes he wants to say he’s Richard; sometimes he denies it. Is he Richard, or Reisden, or are all the conflicting things he says about himself true? Does Reisden’s complex heritage feel anything like a form of mixed heritage?
In Gilbert’s place, what would you have done with the book? Does the book actually “prove” anything?
When Perdita thinks about Sherlock Holmes, she realizes she isn’t like him. Rather than being a logical detective and considering alibis, she follows people’s motives and emotions. She isn’t solving a mystery so much as fighting her own desire not to find what she does find. Does this make Crimes and Survivors a mystery or, as some of Sarah Smith’s other books have been called, a psychological thriller?
At one part of the story, Garnet says bitterly to Perdita, "If you don't see that, you must be blind." What effect does Perdita’s partial blindness have on the story? Who else is "blinded"?
What are the crimes in the book? What are the strategies that survivors use? Do you agree with what they did?
When she confronts Miss Fan and Jane French, Perdita says that their heroism after the Civil War was the same story as the murder twenty years later. Reisden comes to the same conclusion about his history: “It was the same story.” Jane Church calls her complex relationship with Miss Lady a "holy gift," a curse that's also a redemption. Have you ever experienced this kind of "holy gift" in your own life?
"It was just like murder," a real-life survivor says about the bad decisions that led to Titanic's wreck. Perdita compares her behavior during the wreck to Bruce Ismay's. Do you think she is like Bruce Ismay? Do you think the suffragette women should have been blamed for leaving Titanic first?
At the beginning of the book, Reisden has set up The Rule, that Toby’s parents won’t both put themselves in danger at once. By the end of the book, he decides that "love isn't safety." Not only has he broken the rule, but he and Perdita have both done things that may have a significant negative effect on their son’s life. Are they being cruel to Toby? Does love provide a kind of safety?
What would you have done on Titanic? How would you feel as a survivor of Titanic? Does your family have any connection with Titanic?
How many ethnic groups in your family? Have any of them experienced prejudice?
What do you think Perdita says to Reisden at the end of the book?
At the end of the book, Jane Church sends Perdita surprising news, and the race of many of the characters in the book officially changes. What do you think of Perdita's reaction? Would you have felt the same?
In the classic mystery, there are three roles: victim, murderer, and detective. There is a crime, a process of discovery, and a solution. Sarah Smith’s mysteries change the formula. In one, notoriously, all three roles are played by the same person. In Crimes and Survivors, does the formula make sense at all? Who are the victims, the murderers, and the detectives?
Some reviewers have said the book has too many story lines and characters. Do you think it loses impact because of them?
In Crimes and Survivors, Titanic sinks three times: at the beginning, middle, and end. Why do you suppose Sarah Smith did this?
Is Harry a good man, as Reisden calls him? Are he and Reisden in any sense “each other’s lifeboats”?
Incidental characters add to the impact and tone of a book. How do characters like May deMay, Clementine Daniels, Liddy Boswick, and Sturgis the dog add to Crimes and Survivors?
Sarah Smith has said that, for her, the most frightening lines in the book are “You be proud of me. You be proud of everything I [did].” She also says that she thinks the murderer is less frightening than Miss Lady. What do you think of Miss Lady? Was she justified in what she did?
Real characters, particularly Bruce Ismay, appear throughout the book. How do the real characters comment on the fictional ones, and vice versa?
What is your group reading next? How do you decide what books to read?