First line: Face mashed into the carpet, Joss concentrated on breathing.
Joss Preston-Jones, his wife Isobel, and their young daughter Charlie are spending the evening at the home of Isobel’s boss when they are caught up in a vicious home invasion. Terrorised by the machete wielding, balaclava clad gang, Joss is horrified when he recognises one of them, and even worse he’s certain the moment of recognition was mutual. Joss has his own reasons for not telling the police of his suspicions, but he knows Henry Nguyen, nicknamed Cutter, will not rest until he has hunted down Joss and his family.
This is just the most recent in a series of increasingly violent home invasions in Sydney’s western suburbs. A police taskforce has been set up to investigate the crimes, and the newly promoted Sergeant Jill Jackson is transferred to Liverpool to be part of the team. When the attacks escalate to murder, the pressure is on to try to stop this dangerous psychopath before he can kill again. Jill finds herself partnered with the enigmatic Federal Police officer, Gabriel Delahunt, as they reinterview previous victims in the hope of uncovering a clue to the identity of the gang members.
Voodoo Doll is told from three different points of view: the police, Joss, and Cutter. We know who the killer is from the start, so the tension comes from Joss’s very palpable fear; our knowledge of Cutter’s growing need for violence; and not knowing if the police can stop him before he strikes again.
It is the strong characterisation that really makes Voodoo Doll stand out. Giarratano, a clinical psychologist, brings her experience of working with trauma survivors to her writing.
With the events of the previous book, Vodka Doesn't Freeze, now behind her, we see a more secure, more optimistic Jill in this book; a Jill who sometimes experiences “spontaneity, joy, hope”. Although she still has a long way to go, she is beginning to let people into her life. One of those people is her new partner, Gabriel Delahunt.
Delahunt is an intriguing character with his slightly bizarre manner and unorthodox methods. During interviews, Jill finds his seemingly disinterested attitude irritating, but soon realises it is merely a cover for a very keen observer of human behaviour. He manages to get under Jill’s defences and she is shocked to find herself relaxing in his company after only short acquaintance. It will be interesting to see if this relationship develops in future books.
Joss is an ex-soldier who is still haunted by the horrors he witnessed as part of the peace-keeping force in Rwanda. As the story unfolds we find out more about Joss’s childhood connection with Cutter. Cutter is a very disturbed individual who is largely the result of some terrible lessons he learnt from his grandfather.
Vodka Doesn't Freeze was an exceptional first novel, but Voodoo Doll surpasses it. It is best to read the books in order as there are several mentions in this book of events that occurred in the first.