Dirt Creek
March 31, 2022

Book Review

Dirt Creek

reviewed by Eric Ellis

In withering, small-town Durton, Australia, twelve-year-old Esther does not return home after school, last being seen by her best friend Veronica Thompson as the two parted ways at the end of the school day.

Missing persons Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels, and the more seasoned investigator Smithy, are brought in to investigate the complex and expanding investigation where little is known and many residents may or may not be what they first seem to be.

The story continues on focusing on different characters and their perspectives in alternating chapters, with a large amount of the attention being Esther’s best friend “Ronnie” and her tenacious nature to help discover what has happened to Esther.

Generally, out of personal preferences, I avoid novels involving serial killers and novels involving children as victims. While Dirt Creek has nothing to do with serial killers as a focal point, it is a novel about the disappearance and most probable murder of a young girl. To me, when it comes to novels with children as victims it is important how the author deals with the subject matter. In this novel, Hayley Scrivenor does so with great care and compassion without crossing the line into salaciousness or the use of unnecessarily graphic descriptions. 

Hayley Scrivenor also sprinkles powerful passages throughout the novel in a way that seems fresh and not read before.  For example, at one point she describes how the mother to Esther desires to physically respond to any person that has harmed her daughter and while her reaction is graphic, the wording used to describe her imagined reaction is more realistic and creative than gratuitous and exploitive.

Further, in reading more about the author and after finishing Dirt Creek, I was quite surprised to learn this is a debut novel.  The writing is wonderfully expressive without growing into unnecessary wordiness or cliche.  On top of this, characters in the novel, regardless of their role being minor or major, are carefully developed and allowed to breathe and flourish without being perceived as simple paper cutouts casually thrown in for color or for red herrings.

Over the past few years I have really grown to enjoy writers out of Australia and oftentimes because of their wonderful ability to blend the natural environment of Australia into their stories along with the creation of memorable characters and Hayley Scrivenor is one more to follow.

Dirt Creek is strongly recommended for those that enjoy novels often described as “rural noir” and writing that deals with a difficult subject in a carefully handled and sincere manner.

Dirt Creek is set for an August 2022 release. Netgalley provided an advanced reader copy for the promise of a fair review.

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