On page three of Hayley Scrivenor’s excellent Dirt Creek, the body of 12-year-old Esther Bianchi is exhumed from a shallow grave. From there we journey back a few days and watch as her disappearance, and the subsequent investigation into it, causes ripples through a small Australian town.
I know small towns, because I’ve lived in them my whole life. Scrivenor may be writing about Australia and I may be living in Alabama, but location is the only difference between her rural and my rural. If you’ve never lived in a small town, Hayley sums up the experience perfectly with one sentence:
Everything and everyone touching everything else.
I about shouted “Hallelujuah!” when I read that, because it’s so true. That line comes near the end of the book, and rang so true after having spent several days in Scrivenor’s creation, watching how the characters’ lives and decisions wind around each other in an ever-tightening noose of comfort and danger.
Scrivenor tells her story through a variety of characters, including poor Esther’s parents, her friends Ronnie and Lewis, the detective struggling to learn the town and find the killer (all while dealing with a recent loss of her own), and finally with a collective voice — a “We” — employed to give the perspective of the community as a whole. These are people you will suspect, pity, grow frustrated with and weep with. These characters are the lifeblood of the town and the lifeblood of this story.
Esther’s death is a tragedy, but it’s far from the only one this town suffers in a matter of hours and days. Scrivenor makes you feel each one, makes you wallow in the waves of hope and despair, forces you to feel the impact of Esther’s death. Thankfully, we also get glimpses of the impact Esther’s life had on those around her. She is a small but necessary light in this otherwise grim tale.
I can’t wait to see what Hayley Scrivenor does next. Dirt Creek is highly recommended.