Clinical psychologist and best-selling author Leah Giarratano is known for exploring various criminal and/or psychological behaviours in all of her books, and in WATCH THE WORLD BURN, the fourth in the Sergeant Jill Jackson series, she's exploring family, along with extreme psychopathic behaviour. Whilst earlier books clearly demonstrate Giarratano's own background in her deft handling of the extremes of human behaviour, somehow, WATCH THE WORLD BURN is more assured, more informative, more affecting and profoundly unsettling.
Readers of the earlier books will know that Jill Jackson had an horrendous experience as a young girl - kidnapped, raped and tortured. Her ongoing battle to cope and move on is an underlying thread in all the books in this series, but in WATCH THE WORLD burn we see Jill put under the most extreme personal pressure and we watch as she completely falls apart, and starts to put herself back together again.
We also watch as a series of different sorts of families cope. Jill's family continue the struggle to support both of their daughters - both victims of Jill's childhood experience in their own ways. We also watch as a young Aboriginal ex-cop struggles to rebuild his life after he was shot, wounded, pushed from the force after he became a whistleblower. As the sole carer for his much younger brother and sister, Troy Berrigan has a family that was torn apart by so many of the problems in Aboriginal society, being put back together by their individual and collective strength. Then there is the family of Miriam Caine. Her son and granddaughter are pulled into Troy and Jill's circle after Miriam bursts into flames one night the very up-market restaurant that Troy manages, dying a painful and seemingly inexplicable death. Followed by a spate of seemingly unconnected acid and arson attacks around Sydney, the police investigation slowly weaves the stories of Jill, Troy and Miriam's families together.
Balanced well between the police investigation and the various personal stories, WATCH THE WORLD BURN quickly becomes an emotional rollercoaster, although don't for a moment think that means that the reader is left feeling manipulated or over-wrought. It's searing in its portrayal of desperation, pain, suffering, madness and hope. There's humour and great humanity here as well, there are strong and safe characters balancing out the damaged. And in creating a bad guy who is somewhat elusive Giarratano has created what seems to be a pitch perfect portrayal of a psychopath - distant, illogical, slightly out of focus even, but ultimately inexplicable.
Readers of Giarratano books need to be aware that they aren't going to be in for an easy read, but they are absolutely guaranteed to feel something. You may also learn something about the slender threads that some people balance on every day. But you cannot come away from WATCH THE WORLD BURN unaffected by the characters created, the pain that they feel, and the nature of nurture.