I’m fascinated by Australian mysteries. Something about the Australian landscape lends itself well to crime fiction: the bleak, drought-ridden outback serves as the perfect setting for murder. Dirt Creek fits right into this, as the book is named for the town in which it’s set (also called “Dirt Town” by its residents). This small, rural place is slowly dying, and in December 2001 – the height of summer Down Under – 12-year-old Esther Bianchi does not come home from school one day. As its residents search for Esther, the town, with its unrelenting heat, permeates the story and all its characters. In fact, the town itself, personified as “we,” even takes a turn narrating.
The book revolves around a small group of characters: two of Esther’s friends, her mother, and the detective assigned to her case. The narration alternates between their voices, allowing Scrivenor to bring in human insights above and beyond the details of the case. There’s Constance, Esther’s mother, who is learning about a dark chapter in her husband’s past; Lewis, Esther’s friend who lives with an abusive father and is starting to understand that he is gay; Ronnie, Esther’s best friend who is determined to find her; and Sarah, a missing persons detective from Sydney who is fighting demons of her own.
This is not a typical police procedural, but that’s what I liked about it – the slower pace, the in-depth dive into each character’s world and the life of the town. And while the final reveal of the killer is surprising, Scrivenor goes a step beyond and lets the reader know how things turn out for all the characters. If you like Jane Harper or Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End, give this book a try.