On a sweltering Friday afternoon in Durton, best friends Ronnie and Esther leave school together. Esther never makes it home.
Ronnie's going to find her, she has a plan. Lewis will help. Their friend can't be gone, Ronnie won't believe it.
Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels can believe it. She has seen what people are capable of. She knows more than anyone how, in a moment of weakness, a person can be driven to do something they never thought possible.
Lewis can believe it too. But he can't reveal what he saw that afternoon at the creek without exposing his own secret.
Five days later, Esther's buried body is discovered.
I am so late to reading this novel that came out with Pan Macmillan last year, but after hearing author Hayley Scrivenor speak about it at Brisbane Writers Festival I simply had to dive in.
And - wow! - I was blown away.
This is the tale of Esther Bianchi; who goes missing from her small Australian country community, called Durton ('Dirt Town' to the local kids). We follow various characters in town - including Esther's best friend Ronnie, Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels who has come to town to try and solve the mystery, Lewis another friend of Esther's with a big secret and abusive father ... and then interspersed throughout their accounts are the 'We' chapters - a Greek chorus of Durton children which is how Scrivenor came to write this story in the first place. She wrote her PhD in creative writing in 2016 all about collective narration, and this (from what I gathered at BWF) largely influenced 'Dirt Town' and the 'We' of Durton children who are an omniscient, playful and secretive Greek Chorus to the events unfolding ... it's an eerie and imaginative overtone to the whole tale which works so perfectly, and harmonises beautifully with the over-arching mystery.
I absolutely loved this; having listened to the audiobook via BorrowBox and narrated by Sophie Loughran, it totally consumed me for a couple of weeks and was a brilliant walking and train-riding companion.
Scrivenor is a real talent, and I'm sure she'll be compared to Jane Harper for the small-town-Australia angle ... but I think she has a particularly beautiful and distinct wandering eye to dying rural communities and claustrophobic townships, and especially the angle of how this sociology impacts the next generation. This is the real over-arching thread in the book - "what do we owe the girl who isn't there?" - and what wounds are we inflicting by our actions or silence?
I'll be so keen to read whatever Scrivenor writes next. I do wonder if it will be more Sarah Michaels or another Greek chorus overseeing a mystery as the thing that hinges her books together. But no matter - I'll be there.