Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor is the story of twelve-year-old Esther who goes missing on her way home from school in the small, rural, Australian town, Durton (a.k.a. Dirt Town). It’s also the story of Durton’s other children and their economically- and socially-challenged relationships.
The two city-detectives, Sarah and Smithy, who are assigned to the case uncover a drug operation. Initial investigations and interviews reveal little relating to Esther’s disappearance with no clear suspects, motive, or even evidence of a kidnapping, murder or otherwise.
The story is well-written and is presented from multiple perspectives: Ronnie (Esther’s best friend), Lewis (Esther’s next-best friend), Esther’s parents, and also Sarah (the lead detective) all reveal complex stories of their own. Each of these supporting characters have real and troubled relationships and lives that enrich the central story.
The author conveys the smallness and intensity of a rural community: inter-relatedness, long histories and unforgotten grievances, unhappy marriages and parenting struggles. But the author also conveys the innocence of children’s perceptions of real life – of Esther’s disappearance, single parenting, friendships, and fragile rural-Australian economics. The story of finding Esther is paced perfectly, with just the right amount of character and plot development to tempt the reader into reaching premature conclusions.
Dirt Town is a compelling and enjoyable story that kept me interested from start to finish.