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  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9781760895242
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $22.99

The Arsonist

A Mind on Fire




On the day that became known as Black Saturday, one man deliberately lit two fires near the small town of Churchill, Gippsland, then sat on the roof of his house and watched the flames. The Arsonist, by the acclaimed author of The Tall Man, is the story of that man, the fire he lit, and the people who were killed.

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 on the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest in the state, more than thirty 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 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.

  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9781760895242
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Chloe Hooper

Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island (2008) won the Victorian, New South Wales, West Australian and Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, as well as the John Button Prize for Political Writing, and a Ned Kelly Award for crime writing. She is also the author of two novels, A Child’s Book of True Crime and The Engagement.

Also by Chloe Hooper

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Praise for The Arsonist

Gripping, gritty and unsparing but never gratuitous in its details, this is true crime writing at its best. But Hooper goes beyond the procedurals and the scene setting to examine the greater context of the tragedy.

The Saturday Paper

A cool appraisal of a hot issue...Hooper's account of the terrible crime that traumatised a community is even-handed and nuanced - so much so that, by the end of the book, it's difficult to discern where her sympathies lie: victims or accused?

The Guardian

In The Arsonist, Hooper reignites the memories of those cataclysmic events [of Black Saturday] with relentless, devastating effect.

Australian Book Review

Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire stokes the coals of a national tragedy almost a decade after it occurred, providing a hyper-detaile­d examination of how and why one man deliberately helped fan an inferno ... there turn out to be no easy answers.

The Australian

A stunning achievement.

Brisbane News

In Hooper’s sure hands the grimmest details become exquisite imagery. Strange to report, there can even be beauty in arson’s aftermath.

Robert Drewe, The Age

An extraordinary well-written and stirring account. The first half of the book is a masterclass in writing engaging true crime.

Herald Sun

Like the best historians, Hooper recognises her complex responsibilities to past and present, to her historical subjects and contemporary readers. The Arsonist is a brilliant and moving book about ecological devastation and social desolation.

Marilyn Lake, Australian Book Review

Hooper’s sense of journalistic duty is as present here as it was in her acclaimed 2008 book The Tall Man.

Weekend Australian

If not handled carefully, reconstruction narratives can turn stories into unsolvable puzzles. This is because they derive their narrative coherence from atomised sources that often conflict with each other. While Hooper does allow her multiple characters many digressions, The Arsonist achieves its clarity through strict linear chronology. The characters offer myriad interpretations of Sokaluk’s motivations which Hooper does not adjudicate; there remains space for the reader to decide what they believe to be true about the fires and about the arsonist.

Sydney Review of Books

If Hooper has uncovered a truth, it is how years of casual cruelty can make an individual so ambivalent to their neighbours. Excluding the 'different' might be a failing for which society pays dearly.

Daily Telegraph

Homing in on one man, one investigation, one court case and one small regional community, Hooper tells a much bigger story of fire in Australia, deftly bringing in its sociological, cultural and environmental dimensions.

Hobart Mercury

Unsettling…a gripping and insightful book.

The Economist

We will all learn something from the devastating events that scorched a community and the way in which [Hooper's] storytelling draws a reaction.

The Times

Awards & recognition

Indie Book Awards

Winner  •  2019  •  Non-fiction

Victorian Community History Awards

Awarded  •  2019  •  Judges' Special Prize

CHASS Australia Book Prize

Longlisted  •  2019  •  CHASS Australia Book Prize

Davitt Awards

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  Non-fiction crime books

Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award 2019

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award 2019

Ned Kelly Award for Best True Crime

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  Ned Kelly Award for Best True Crime

Ned Kelly Awards

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  Ned Kelly Award for Best True Crime

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  Non-fiction

Stella Prize

Longlisted  •  2019  •  Stella Prize

Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

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