By Hayley Scrivenor; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
When twelve-year-old Esther Bianchi disappears walking home from school, hidden parts of the community of Durton dissolve, changing lives forever and unraveling families and relationships.
For Ronnie, Esther’s best friend, she was everything: the one who could make Ronnie erupt in laughter at a glance; the ringleader in play and rebellion; and the girl with the handsome, laughing father. Her disappearance is incomprehensible.
Shelly Thompson, Ronnie’s aunt, is at the side of Esther’s mother, Constance Bianchi, as soon as the news comes in.
When the police discover what appears to be Esther’s school shoe hidden under the passenger’s side seat of Esther’s father’s utility vehicle, the possibility of the unthinkable ripples through the community.
Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels and Detective Constable Wayne Smith, both outsiders and experts in child abductions, are assigned to the case.
Ignorant of community relationships, they bring new eyes and perspectives to the people of Durton. As they investigate, Durton’s public facade melts like ice in a summer drink. The town’s dwindling economy is giving way to drug users — and drug makers. Alcoholism and family abuse are exposed along with date rape and gang-banging. Native sons revel in being back with their mates while their wives suffocate as outsiders in a small, unaccepting town.
Author Hayley Scrivenor makes use of multiple narrators to give depth and dimension to this mystery. A collective, Greek chorus of children give atmosphere and tell of the impact of losing one of their own at such a young age. This plural narration is sometimes confusing and seems to be reaching for meaning and significance it doesn’t quite achieve. Even so, this book is powerful and poignant.
Otherwise, this is a well-done, suspenseful mystery with an unexpected ending. Anyone who loves Jane Harper’s mysteries — THE DRY, FORCE OF NATURE or THE LOST MAN — or Chris Hammer’s SCRUBLANDS will enjoy this novel.
The Author: Hayley Scrivenor
The former director of the Wollongong Writers Festival, Hayley Scrivenor published DIRT TOWN, her debut novel in August 2022.
Originally from a small country town, Hayley now lives and writes on Dharawal country. She holds a doctorate in creative writing from the University of Wollongong on Australia’s south coast.