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The Arsonist

Narrated by: Sybilla Budd
Length: 6 hrs and 39 mins
Categories: Nonfiction, True Crime
4.5 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Arsonist takes listeners inside the hunt for a fire-lighter. After Black Saturday, a February 2009 day marked by 47 degree heat and firestorms, arson squad detectives arrived at a plantation on the edge of a 26,000-hectare burn site. Eleven people had just been killed and hundreds made homeless. Here, in the Latrobe Valley, where Victoria's electricity is generated, and the rates of unemployment, crime and domestic abuse are the highest in the state, more than 30 people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn't know. 

The Arsonist tells a remarkable detective story, as the police close in on someone they believe to be a cunning offender, and a puzzling psychological story, as defence lawyers seek to understand the motives of a man who, they claimed, was a naif that had accidentally dropped a cigarette.

It is the story not only of this fire - how it happened, the people who died, the aftermath for the community - but of fire in this country. What it has done, what it has meant, what it might yet do. Bushfire is one of Australia's deepest anxieties, never more so than when deliberately lit. Arson, wrote Henry Lawson, expresses a malice 'terrifying to those who have seen what it is capable of. You never know when you are safe.'

As she did in The Tall Man, Chloe Hooper takes us to a part of the country seldom explored and reveals something buried but essential in our national psyche. The bush, summertime, a smouldering cigarette - none of these will feel the same again.

©2018 Chloe Hooper (P)2018 Penguin Random House Australia

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  • Bookgirl
  • 10-23-18

Incredibly powerful - wow.

This is all of the best things that investigative journalism and true crime writing can be. It's clever, clear-eyed, nuanced and compassionate. It explores the terrible events of Black Saturday, and the arson crime that was committed to light one of the many fires that burnt on the day. I love they way Chloe Hooper doesn't accept any easy answers about justice, crime and accountability. The police investigation and the details of the court case are so fascinating. Both the writing and the reading are terrific and it's a powerful listen. Highly recommended, particularly if you enjoy well written true crime and especially if you liked the Tall Man or any of Helen Garner's non fiction.


7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • RCF
  • 12-13-18

Dire narrator utterly ruins compelling story

I’m not sure if the author has heard this version, but surely the producers at Audible thought the writing deserved better than this?

Tonally flat, no emotion, or range - at times it was like hearing a shopping list being read out.

I urge fans of the author go out and buy the book to enjoy the full weight and grace of her writing style.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 08-01-19

A wonder of a book

Chloe’s ability to tell an ugly, jarring story so beautifully was stunning. Those involved were described with depth and consideration and the lines between good and evil were aptly blurred.

The story was told in all its complexity against the backdrop of a brutal but beautiful landscape. The interweaving of science, psychology, human relationships, law,
economy and nature was seamlessly skillful.

Extraordinary book, beautifully narrated by Sybilla.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Wade
  • 07-14-19

Loved it

Loved the descriptions of the fires. Of the people. Having working in a tangential way on the black Saturday fire it was truly wonderful to hear this.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • anne comery
  • 06-18-19

a must read

this was a gripping and unimaginable story told by a 'narrator of worth 'who gave an authentic read for the listener . As a volunteer firefighter it sent chills up my spine

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-17-19

Engaging structure, misses broader insights

Overall I found the story structure very compelling. Chloe Hooper had me thinking and feeling as the victims, first responders and officers of court were as events unfolded. Experiences were tragically evoked with poetic writing that was even beautiful at times. I wish the book focused more on the backgrounds, challenges and breakthroughs of witnesses and officials involved in the case.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-08-19

Extraordinary research

I've just listened to this book in one sitting, couldn't put it down so to speak. The author has done an amazing work of research and then an even more amazing work of arranging that research in an accessible story taking the reader to the heart of the fire field and the awful aftermath.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • M. O'Brien
  • 08-25-19

A documentary on the Black Saturday bushfires

As an audiobook this book was more like a documentary than a thriller. It was thoroughly researched, investigative & written in a way that gave you insight & an understanding into the man, the arsonist, behind the fires that raged that day in the Churchill area of Victoria. It's was a great read and perhaps more meaningful having lived through that horrendous day and the weeks that followed as the horrific stories & number of deaths emerged.

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  • Meg
  • 08-11-19

incredibly well written

An incredibly well written book, a lushly detailed account of human complexity. A very beautiful book.

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  • Pep
  • 02-10-19

Heartbreaking story

Enjoyed this story about a heartbreaking and complex situation. Narration was generally good though there were points in the first few chapters where a pause between unrelated paragraphs would have helped, and a jarring mispronunciation of 'causal' as 'casual' later in the book. This could be due to a typo in the text. Great writing by Ms Hooper.