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The mysterious case of an Australian arsonist

The mysterious case of an Australian arsonist

Plus, true crime in Argentina and a biography about the impresario behind the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant

Plus, true crime in Argentina and a biography about the impresario behind the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant

December/January 2019

The firebug
Fire haunts Australia’s summers. Ten years ago, on a day now known as “Black Saturday”, as many as 400 bushfires, some of them caused by arson, roared through rural Victoria, killing 173 people. “The Arsonist”, written by Chloe Hooper, delves into the psyche of one of the “firebugs” responsible. Brendan Sokaluk was a middle-aged outsider who deliberately lit two fires near a small town, then sat on his roof and watched the flames spread. Eleven people died in the inferno.

“The Arsonist” has the pace of a detective story and the prose of a literary novel: Hooper writes of “straight black trees stretching in perfect symmetry” and smoke that “creeps around their charcoal trunks”. The book gets inside the mind of Sokaluk, who was diagnosed with autism, to ask whether he truly understood the consequences of his actions.

Here comes the bribe
Fans of true crime in Argentina do not have to look far to get their fix, thanks to Hugo Alconada Mon, a journalist for Wikileaks, a whistleblowing site, who worked on the Panama Papers. His book, “La raíz (de todos los males)” (“The Root of All Evil”), exposes a horror more disturbing than any fiction: the extent of corruption in the country. He argues that malfeasance is the main mode of securing power in Argentina, with prominent figures ranging from businessmen to judges involved in pay-offs, electoral fraud and money laundering. Just as the book was published, several high-profile former government ministers were arrested on corruption charges, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the former president, was indicted for bribery. Time for a sequel, perhaps.

Prisoners of war
Naoki Hyakuta struck literary gold a decade ago with “Eternal Zero”, a bestselling novel about kamikaze pilots attacking American ships between 1944 and 1945, which was later turned into a popular film. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s most-famous film director, memorably called the story a “pack of lies” but Hyakuta, who has made a career out of ruffling liberal feathers, was unmoved. His latest offering, a 500-page history of Japan, motors from the third century right up to the present and has stirred more controversy with its assessment of Japan’s role in the second world war. It argues that Japan fought a war of national self-defence and its children have been “brainwashed” to hate their own country. Accusations of historical errors and even plagiarism do not seem to have deterred Hyakuta’s fans.

Mr Venezuela
Osmel Sousa, who is known as the “czar of beauty” or the “maker of Misses”, ran the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant for four decades until last year. Now 72, he is promoting the publication of his first authorised biography, “An Unknown Man” by Diego Arroya Gil. Despite his renown, Sousa has only given a few brief interviews during his long career. Now he reveals how his homosexuality apalled his Cuban parents, who banished him to Venezuela in the 1950s, where he found his metier in the escapist world of the beauty pageant.