Review: Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor

Multifaceted and layered, elegiac yet intensely compulsive, Dirt Town is quite simply one of the best, most sustained pieces of crime fiction I’ve read in some time ― and I’ve read some good ones lately. Hayley Scrivenor has reconfigured familiar components into a mystery focused more on character development than on reaching its “big reveal,” or “whodunit.”

In Durton, a small country town in Australia dubbed “Dirt Town” by its children, twelve-year-old best friends Ronnie and Esther leave school together on a Friday, and separate on their way home. Only Ronnie makes it back, and five days later, her best friend’s body is discovered, buried and wrapped in plastic. So who killed Esther Bianchi?

The investigation is handled by Sydney-based police Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels and her partner, Detective Constable Wayne Smith. But narratively, the mystery is untangled through alternating points of view; a Greek Chorus of entwined perspectives, ranging from Esther’s friends Lewis and Ronnie; her mother Constance; Detective Sarah Michaels; and the haunting, omniscient “We” that represents the children of the town.

I was as invested in uncovering who was responsible for Esther’s death as I was digging deeper into the relationships and dynamics of the Durton population. Like all small towns, anywhere in the world, everybody here is connected, and nobody is untouched by tragedy. I delighted in the uncovering of their secrets, and deciphering whether or not those secrets had anything to do with the crime.

The best crime novels are inherently simple; person A killed person B for reason X ― it’s the characters who add texture and complexity. Hayley Scrivenor is the real deal, a powerful new voice in Australian crime fiction, because she couples deeply developed characters with richly descriptive writing, and a persuasive plot that’ll keep you turning pages late into the night. This is a true bravura performance. Dirt Town is one of 2022’s unmissable Australian crime novels.

3 thoughts on “Review: Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor

  1. Sounds great! I think there’s too much “half-way to a film script” writing around so good Aussie writing “deeply developed characters with richly descriptive writing, and a persuasive plot” is much appreciated.

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