The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

By: Chloe Hooper

Review: A search for answers often comes after a tragedy like Black Saturday bushfires on February 7, 2009. And having lived through Ash Wednesday in 1993, my memories are still deeply etched and vividly sensory. There was a disturbing level voyeurism to reconcile, but I knew I was in capable hands after reading Cloe Hooper’s previous non-fiction/true crime book ‘The Tall Man’ some years back. While some parts are a visceral experience to read, it’s Hooper’s neutrality, compassion and perception that are the balm.

Hooper’s book centres around the site of the Churchill fire where it was found to be the act of an arsonist. Each side of the story is recreated: the victims, the investigators, the lawyers, the community, the arsonists family and the arsonist himself. Hooper’s skills lie in the exploration of the complexities of context and the psychology of not just the individual but society. While it’s a harrowing recreation, Hooper doesn’t seek to blame, defend or justify, she researches and reports, leaving the reader to contemplate how and why.

Pages: 272

Genre: Non-fiction

Published: October 2018

Reviewer: Jody

Book Blurb: On the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, then sat n the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest of n the state, more than thirty people were known to the police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn’t know.

The Arsonist takes readers on the hunt for this man, and inside the strange puzzle of his mind. It is also the story of fire in this country, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element. The command of fire has defined and sustained us as a species – understanding its abuse will define our future.

A powerful real-life thriller written with Hooper’s trademark lyric detail and nuance, The Arsonist is a reminder that in an age of fire, all of us are gatekeepers.

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