Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!
If you’re a longtime reader of this newsletter, you all know how much I love a good mystery, and how much I love Australian writers and settings! This book is a really excellent and atmospheric pick, perfect for mystery readers looking for something to read that will give off Mare of Eastown vibes!
Content warning: Drug use, sexual assault, domestic violence, physical violence, graphic descriptions of death.
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Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor
Set in 2001 in the small town of Durton, some seven hours west of Sydney, this story follows the lives of the small community when twelve-year-old Esther disappears while walking home from school. The people in her life, from her best friends to parents to parents’ friends, are all shocked and dismayed that something so alarming could happen in their town, but as two investigators from Sydney show up and begin peeling back the layers of their community and its secrets, the citizens of “Dirt Town” will find that there is far more lurking beneath the surface than they thought… When Esther’s best friend Ronnie decides to investigate the disappearance herself, it will have life-changing consequences that no one could have foreseen.
I really enjoyed this book because it reminded me of the intriguing mysteries and procedurals of Jane Harper’s work, which tends to focus in on small communities and long-held secrets, but Scrivenor’s writing has a slightly more literary bent to it. The book is told from the point of view of the investigators, one of whom is a lesbian suffering a recent break up, and from the many townspeople of Durton, including Esther’s friends. It also features a Greek chorus of the townspeople, which offer some of the most elegant and haunting perspectives on the mystery. The entire book unfolds over the course of a single summer weekend, winding between perspectives and timelines to build a puzzling mystery that suggests more than one person is responsible for a variety of crimes in Durton—but how are they all linked? The ending was bittersweet but emotionally satisfying, and I know that I would happily pick up anything else she writes! If you like small town crime mysteries, procedurals, or mysteries that are less about flash and more about mining emotional depths of a very particular place, this is a great read for you.