By Shankari Chandran

Publisher: Ultimo Press, 2024

Publisher’s blurb

It was a beautiful evening. The wind gathered speed, lifting the frangipanis from the grove behind him, pink and yellow petals defying gravity. Beyond the trees, hidden by the foliage and rows of towering palm trees, the detention centre slept fitfully in the heavy summer heat. The palms blocked the ocean gust that now swirled around him, filling his lungs with the taste of temple flowers and salt. It reminded him of home. He took a deep breath, stepped off the escarpment and felt the red sand rush up towards him.

Arriving in Australia seeking asylum, Fina dedicates herself to aiding the refugees who are held in Port Camden, a remote island outpost. Over time she settles into a life within a community of like-minded people, finding a new family, far from her original home. After she speaks out for those being detained, Fina becomes the focus of a media storm that leads to her arrest, and the threat of deportation.

When a security officer dies under suspicious circumstances, Lucky, a special investigator, arrives to uncover the truth. The mystery is tied to Fina’s fate—and the secrets she reveals will divide the town and the nation.

Safe Haven is about displacement and seeking refuge—but ultimately it is a story about finding home—and the lengths you’ll go to find safety and love.


by Sandra Thom-Jones

I was delighted to be asked to review this book because (fun fact) I once met Shankari Chandran; not that I knew who she was at the time. I was in a hotel restaurant in desperate need of breakfast before speaking at my first-ever writer’s festival, and the waiter told me they had no gluten-free food (I’m a coeliac). I was sitting there thinking I was going to cry, when a total stranger reached over from the next table and gave me a big smile and a handful of muesli bars.

Was the death of Officer Thomas Milton, security guard at the Port Camden detention centre, an accident? Or was it suicide, or even murder? There is no doubt that the death of 14-year-old detainee Kannan Puveendran was suicide, but why? And are the two deaths connected?

These are just two of the mysteries to be solved in Safe Haven, the latest novel by Miles Franklin Award-winning author Shankari Chandran.

The story is told from the perspectives of two inspiring women, each prepared to put themselves at great risk to protect others from harm. Sister Serafina Daniels (Fina), who spends her time between the small town of Hastings in NSW and providing pastoral care to those imprisoned in the remote Post Camden, is dependent on the whim of the Australian government for her Safe Haven Enterprise Visa which prevents her deportation back to Sri Lanka. Dr Lakshmi Dharman (Lucky) is the Office of Special Investigations officer sent to Port Camden to investigate the two deaths. An Australian Tamil, a woman, and an OSI investigator, she is treated with open hostility by Deimos Security staff who do not welcome scrutiny of their management of the detention centre.

This is a gripping crime story, where many of the characters have secrets to hide, and will keep you rivetted and eager to unlock the mysteries Chandran has masterfully woven through the plot. However, it is also far more than that. Behind the beautifully crafted story, with its well-developed characters who will win your hearts (and some your disgust) is another story that is too seldom told: the reality of life in immigration detention centres, and the appalling cruelty that is committed on men, women and children in the name of Australia’s border security.

Chandran mixes beautiful descriptions and warm characters, a gripping mystery with twists and turns, and an indictment of Australia’s treatment of refugees to create a deeply enjoyable novel that both entertains and educates.