Title: Voodoo Doll
Author: Leah Giarratano
Publisher: Bantam 
Sergeant Jill Jackson has been promoted since the first book in which she appeared, 2007’s Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, and moves from beach-side Maroubra to Liverpool in the heart of Sydney’s western suburbs to work on a newly established Task Force investigating a series of violent home invasions. The Task Force brings together a range of new characters and Jackson is paired with a Federal Police Officer who has a knack for observing body language and the two lead the investigation in new directions when they re-interview victims and learn new information about the incidents.
I find it difficult sometimes to put my finger on the difference between a good book and a great one. But whatever that intangible thing might be, this book is well and truly in the second category. To try and define what makes this book better than good I’ll start with the story. It’s genuinely suspense-filled and surprisingly delicately constructed given the subject matter. Although it features a seriously twisted criminal it’s far more believable than the serial-killer-making-a-suit-from-human-skin type of thriller. And things you believe could happen are always scarier than fantasy. Believable makes you look at your neighbours a little more closely. Believable makes you pull the bed covers over your head even though it’s 40C. Believable makes you check the locks. Three times.
Then there are the characters. I love Jill Jackson and enjoyed seeing her deal with a case that had less of a personal involvement than in the first book. She’s not in nearly so much turmoil here and seems more centred and smarter about the way she works and the decisions she makes. The victims too are very well depicted. Even if they appear only briefly, such as the teenage Justine who struggles to voice what happened to her, they seem to leap off the page and sit in the room with you. There’s nothing two-dimensional about the people in this book. Again though Giarratano excels herself in creating the creepiest bad guys in crime fiction. As with Jamaal Mahmoud, who still occasionally troubles my sleep some six months after reading Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, Henry ‘Cutter’ Nguyen is a masterpiece of evil in human form. The thought that Giarratano may have encountered a non-fictional version of him in her work as a clinical psychologist working with, among others, trauma victims and in the prison system, is a sobering one.
To top it all off the book demonstrates the increasingly rare art of knowing when enough is enough. Unlike the many 500+ page bricks that pepper the shelves these days it’s a tightly written 300 pages and didn’t once make me wish I had a red pen in my hand. All that remains is to wait with much anticipation for the next offering from Ms Giarratano. And perhaps buy an extra deadbolt or two for the back door. Just in case.
My rating 5/5