Cover Image: Dirt Creek

Dirt Creek

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Going into this story, I was expecting a standard murder mystery: young girl disappears and people need to find the killer. While this was the main plot of the story, I feel as though this was much more literary than I was expecting. Every so often there was a chapter from a metaphorical “we” being the children/people of the town, which confused me at first until I realized that it wasn’t actually a real person. Additionally, there were more than 3 points of view, some children, some adults, so it was hard to keep track of who knew about what, and when they knew it. Overall this lead to more flowery prose and less black and white writing than normally appears in thrillers - and more than I was expecting. 

Furthermore, the characters in the story were all not-great people, and there was not a single person I was rooting for. Combined with a lackluster plot, when the solution to the mystery had been revealed I just kinda shrugged, not caring in any way what happened. Overall, I was just really bored reading it, and if I was not committed to finishing it (because I had an ARC of it) I would have DNF’d it. Dirt Creek did not pack a punch, make an impact, or surprise me in any way - which makes it a fail as a mystery/thriller in my book. As a piece of literary fiction (which admittedly is not my favorite) it is just average, hence the three stars.
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Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor  is a recommended debut mystery and procedural set in Australia.

In the opening we know her body has been found, as witnessed by the children who knew her. Following this is the investigation that begins when twelve-year-old Esther disappears on the way home from school. Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels arrives in town to investigate Esther's disappearance and the whole community is thrown into the investigation. Esther's best friend, Ronnie, is determined to find Esther and bring her home.

Chapters are told through different points-of-view, including chapters titled "we" which represents a sort of Greek chorus composed of the children of the community watching and observing the death and investigation of Esther. It becomes clear as the investigation unfolds that everyone isn't telling the truth and that people have secrets they want to keep hidden, no matter the costs to the whole town. The children are honest with their insights, but also with their reasons to keep silent.

The action and tension in Dirt Creek builds very slowly and gradually as suspects are set apart and more information is gradually revealed by the children and the community. Media attention and the police investigation make those who could reveal more information even more reticent to do so. The personal lives of the families and their children is part of the narrative, and is also heartbreaking at times. Ronnie's chapters are the most moving because Esther was her best friend and it is clear that she misses her friend.

This is a character driven mystery. The children are sympathetic characters although also repetitious, while the adults are less sympathetic and more disagreeable. Several of the adult friendships are an important part of the narrative, but their friendships are also brought into question. The town itself is a desolate and destructive force among the residents.

The quality of the writing is quite good, but the actual slow progress of the plot inhibits the insights from making a big impact in the overall presentation of the narrative. It should be noted that there is a lot of violence in the plot that is off-putting and not necessary. The plot needs tightening up and a clarification of the direction the narrative is taking. Additionally, it is never necessary to add everything you have big feelings about to one novel. 
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillan via NetGalley.
The review will be published on Barnes & Noble, Edelweiss, Google Books, and Amazon.
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this one was not for me … but I appreciated it greatly!

there was a lot that I wanted to love about this one: the missing (kidnapped probably murdered) person, the small town suspicions, the sketchy family, I could go on and on

however, the writing of the plot was not it for me. the dialogue was few and far between, with the switching POVs telling their side of the story rather than in conversational writing. 

I would have loved it more if the mystery held more of an impact and allowed the reader to figure it out for themselves. instead, the story was unfolded bit by bit and spoon fed to the readers 😅

not to mention the kids who were friends with missing child esther had the WORST memories and literally could not understand that withholding information was life or death for their “friend” 

I WAS SO IRRITATED THE ENTIRE TIME 🥴

overall, it had great potential, but the writing wasn’t the correct style to fit the themes of the book, in my opinion. 

thank you to netgalley and flatiron books for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! 

rating: 2 stars
wine pairing: brazil sauvignon blanc
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On a hot December afternoon, 12-year old Esther goes missing on her walk home from school in rural small-town Australia and the four days between her disappearance and reappearance tear the town apart. As the investigation unfolds, secrets new and old are revealed, changing the community and the lives of the people at the center of the case in profound ways. 

Told in alternating perspectives between the detective sergeant investigating the case, Esther's closest friends Ronnie and Lewis, Esther's mom Constance, and the collective "We" of the community's children, the story follows their experiences and perceptions in ways that provide glimpses of what may have actually happened without revealing the truth in its complete picture until the end. This approach is sometimes confusing because it jumps back and forth a bit in the timeline, but it also gives the reader a look into the minds of those closest to Esther and the case in a way that feels more authentic than many mystery-thrillers. There are several red herrings, but they're done in a way that never feels like the author is cheating the reader, and by the time the killer is revealed (it isn't a spoiler to tell you Esther is dead - her body is found in the opening chapter) the reader has enough information to piece it together right before the detective. Similar in tone to Jane Harper's work, Scrivenor's narrative approach offers something new for readers who enjoy small-town thrillers.

Thank you to Flatiron Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read Dirt Creek early in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a great read--police procedural and mystery set in Australia! It reminded me a lot of The Survivors by Jane Harper and When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McClain. In the small Australian town, a young girl goes missing. Two detectives from Sydney take the case over, and we get to follow the lead detective, Sarah, as she investigates. Suddenly every one in town seems like a suspect, and everyone's secrets begin coming out. We follow several character's points of views, including Sarah, the missing girl's mother, the missing girl's friends and the collective we of the town. The author really brings the setting to life, and I could picture this tiny, dirt streaked town. What a debut! This is an author to watch!
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literary take on a murder mystery. really gets into the complex dynamics of any human interaction. langorous, thoughtful prose, with metaphors so fresh that they made me pause. genuinely lovely, and satisfying in that it's about as satisfying as real life is; this is, only partly
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This was an average mystery. It was fairly predictable. I knew who committed the crime down to two possibilities. It’s more of a small-town drama. I don’t like child death, but I knew that about the book going in so don’t fault it for my own decisions. I just didn’t particularly connect to it.
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Scrivenor delivers a uniquely told story of what happens in a rural Australian town after a young girl goes missing and results in secrets being revealed. Told from multiple viewpoints, a Greek chorus of the town’s children, the missing girl’s best friend, the Detective Sergeant investigating, the mother of the missing girl and a school boy friend, Scrivenor manages to balance the investigation, all the emotional aspects and complex characters very well. In the end, I prefer something much more crime/investigation based so this wasn’t quite a hit for me, but I am interested in future releases from this author. So if you love an in-depth look at how a crime affects all those who are touched by it then this book will be right up your alley.
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This book has a great opening that really hooks you in with questions you want answered.  Yet it took me a while to figure out the cast of characters and to get into the plot.  The story is told from alternating perspectives of some of the main characters with a mystery character entitled just “we” that gives you a look into the goings ons of the small Australian town. This small struggling town experiences the tragic disappearance of one of its children.  What happened to her and is anyone safe?  The young characters' voices are powerful as they struggle to come to terms with one of their own being in their lives one day and unexpectedly out of it the next. I would definitely recommend this book to those who want a book that explores the emotional impact of a tragic mystery in a small town.  I did find that the ending was a bit drawn out.  Another good Australian mystery!  Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book!
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For a debut author, this was a surprise. Hayley Scrivenor weaves the tale of a missing girl and how everyone is a small town in I. Extend to one another. Many compare her writing with The D try by Jane Harper, but I think her story is better constructed. This was a 4.5 for me!
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When a young school girl disappears on her way home from school, it rocks a small, rural, Australian town and exposes secrets of the children and the adults in the community. The feel of the story has more in common with Big Little Lies than with the thrillers of Jane Harper or Candice Fox.
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Dirt Creek is Durton, Australia, a small town in a dry area. Generations of families have lived here. Everyone has secrets, and some know these secrets or perhaps they are the ones who are hiding them or inventing them. Families for the most part support each other. But in the midst of this community everything changes when Esther, a 12-year-old goes missing. In the first chapter; a farmer makes a gruesome discovery in his pasture – who/what is it? The story unravels going back in time exploring relationships and events that reveal a mystery.

Scrivenor  has a unique way in telling this story. Much is seen through the eyes of the children who know Esther; Veronica (Ronnie), and Lewis. Other segments are told by the out-of-town detectives, Sarah and her partner. The author also reveals how the adults are coping. Best of all, there are intermittent chapters entitled “we” which serves as a type of Greek chorus gauging the effects of this crime and how it is affecting their once quiet community.

Vivid  descriptions of place and characters help a slow-moving plot build suspense in determining who may have been responsible. Consider this a great Outback noire! Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this title.
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A preteen girl in a dusty, middle of nowhere town in rural Australia goes missing. Two detectives arrive in town to investigate. Many of the residents are barely getting by financially. Many are in emotionally precarious relationships. The pressure of the investigation and their own suspicions bring many unstable situations to a head.
The dry,dusty suffocating feel of small town Australia brings to mind Jane Harper’s The Dry and The Lost Man.  A subplot about the lead detective’s romantic life seems a bit overused. By nature of the small town setting the pool of suspects is limited, however I found the story engrossing and recommend this novel
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Dirt Creek is an addictive atmospheric thriller perfect for those who enjoyed Jane Harper's The Dry. The story is told from multiple perspectives including a "Greek chorus" of the remaining children in the town, the missing girl’s best friend Ronnie, the missing girl's mother, the Detective Sergeant, and Lewis a boy from her school. When twelve year old Esther goes missing from a small Australian town, suspicion and grief take over. When Lewis tells Ronnie he saw Esther with a strange man at the creek, she begins to feel she can find her friend. But why isn't Lewis telling the police himself? The writing is vivid and engrossing. The setting is atmospheric. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy Jane Harper's writing.
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I stopped reading this because of the animal abuse. When will authors learn that of all things.... Leave the animal stuff out. Most people seem to agree on Goodreads. It was too slow as well.
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I’m a big fan of Jane Harper, so when I read that Hayley Scrivenor’s book "Dirt Creek "was available from Flatiron Books and NetGalley in return for my honest review, I was looking forward to it – a LOT. For some reason, it was originally published in Australia as "Dirt Town," but is renamed as Dirt Creek. Whatever, it’s quite reminiscent of Harper’s book, and also has a fine mystery story told rom multiple points of view. (one of them is sort of a “Greek chorus” representing the town’s children, which isn’t as strange as it might sound. 
A twelve-year-old girl named Esther disappears on the way home from school in a small town in rural Australia, and before long the whole town is filled with grief and suspicion. Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels arrives in town during the hottest spring in decades and begins her investigation, and Esther’s best friend, Ronnie, is determined to find Esther and bring her home.
Lewis, a friend of Ronnie’s,  tells her that he saw Esther with “a strange man” at the creek the afternoon she went missing, and Ronnie feels she is moving closer to finding her friend. But for some reason Lewis won’t talk  to the police.  
The dry and dusty atmosphere reminded me of Jane Harper’s writing about the outback, drought, etc. I sometimes am challenged by multiple POV mysteries, but this one was fine once I settled in and focused on my reading. STRONG debut. Four stars.
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Thank you @netgalley and @flatiron_books for this advance copy.  This debut novel recommended for fans of Jane Harper is part whodunnit, part police procedural and part examination of small town life in Australia.  I don’t want to give anything away, but there were parts of this book that just felt confusing as far as organization and placement [the We chapters & the final chapters].  I struggled to orient myself at first, but it wasn’t long before I could not put it down.  Even though it focused on a subject matter I prefer not to read about, the story was so compelling I had to know what happened.  Overall, an absorbing, page turning read.  I will definitely be on the lookout for whatever Scrivenor writes next.  Dirt Creek publishes August 2nd.
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Genre fiction is too often criticized for producing generic, cookie-cutter works that fail to stretch the boundaries of what can be accomplished via the written word. But if one has any doubt about the vitality of modern crime fiction, a simple look at recent and up-coming publications will quickly dispel that factual error. Take for example, Hayley Scrivenor’s debut novel Dirt Town – a work that both acknowledges and circumvents existing tropes, utilizes its unusual setting in fresh and authentic ways, and populates the narrative with an unforgettable cast of characters bursting with diversity, insight, and fallibility. That Hayley Scrivenor then executes all of that while employing a lush and beautiful use of language is a testament to her talent and hints that this may just be the start of a long and successful career.

Durton – aka Dirt Town – is a small town in rural Australia where the citizens are so connected and close-knit that the concept of secrets is almost impossible for them to comprehend. But when twelve-year-old Esther Bianchi goes missing, this town’s faux façade is shredded to smithereens. The truth of those “behind your back” conversations is exposed, and accusations turn from their previous whispers and veiled insinuations to outright cries for justice – most especially after Esther’s body is found.

Dirt Town is told from the perspective of five different points of view. The first four are not unlike those readers will find in most crime novels – that is, individuals who play some part in the unfolding action. In the case of Dirt Town these folks are: Veronica “Ronnie” Thompson, Esther’s best friend; Constance Bianchi, Esther’s mother; Lewis Kennard, a boy at Esther’s school; and Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels, an outsider sent in to investigate Esther’s disappearance.

It is with the fifth POV where Hayley Scrivenor presents her literary pièce de résistance. These chapters – labeled as “We” – are narrated from the collective points of view of the town’s children. Sort of like the Greek chorus of ancient theater, they do not play an active role in the book’s story, but they provide valuable insight into the effect this investigation has on the citizens of Dirt Town. They reoccur repeatedly throughout the novel, interrupting the forward momentum of the plot in order to reflect upon things from the mindset of the children on the periphery of the action. This unusual technique helps to widen the canvas of the narrative without the need to introduce a whole host of specific additional characters.

When the secrets of the town are revealed, readers will watch as a portrait of rural life blossoms before their eyes. None of the topics Hayley Scrivenor is documenting are unexpected or groundbreaking – infidelity, disability, drugs, sexuality, addiction, and abuse – but the way that she incorporates them and defies stereotypes lends a freshness to the final product that cannot be overstated.  

As a first novel, Dirt Town is a shining achievement and will leave readers around the world anxious to see what Hayley Scrivenor will tackle next.

NOTE: For some unknowable marketing reason, Dirt Town will be re-titled Dirt Creek when it is published in the United States later this year.
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Dirt Creek is a well-written debut mystery set in small-town Australia about the disappearance of 12-year-old Esther during her walk home from school. Esther's plucky best friend Ronnie is determined to find her, occasionally aided by their more reluctant friend Lewis. But each of the young characters is a member of a dysfunctional family, which results in quite a few suspects and a close look at family dynamics.

Chapters focus alternately on a number of characters, with some devoted to a "Greek chorus" of young townspeople who express their feelings about growing up in this town and ultimately describe what had actually happened and why.

There didn't seem to be much happiness in any of the characters, which made it a bleak read for me. But the author succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of the setting and the growing tension among the major players.

My thanks to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for the opportunity to read and provide an honest review of the book.
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Jane Harper read-alike, anyone?

DIRT CREEK is just the type of slow burn mystery I love. In the oppressive heat of a rural Australian town, twelve year old Esther goes missing  on her way home from school. 

The story is told from multiple POVs, including Esther’s school friends as well as a collective “we”/Greek chorus of children in the town. This stylistic narrative choice made for a unique read as the mystery slowly unfolded. Readers are led down multiple paths of suspicion which kept me invested in the outcome. 

This debut by Australian native Hayley Scrivenor is reminiscent of my favorite Jane Harper novels. This atmospheric mystery has such a strong sense of place; the gritty small town setting was a character in its own right.

I love the way the author explored various expressions of grief, complicated community dynamics, and the ways in which we move forward after a staggering tragedy. This book would yield a fascinating book club discussion.

Be sure to pick up DIRT CREEK when it releases this summer!

RATING: 4.5/5 stars (rounded up to 5)
PUBLICATION DATE: August 2, 2022

A big thank you to Flatiron Books and NetGalley for an electronic ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Review will be posted to www.instagram.com/kellyhook.readsbooks in advance of publication date
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