One of NPR's Best Books of 2017
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
“A brisk, captivating and expertly crafted reconstruction of a community living through a time of fear. . . . Masterful.”— Washington Post
The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate—there were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning.
“One of the year’s best and most unusual true-crime books” (Christian Science Monitor), American Fire brings to vivid life the reeling county of Accomack. “Ace reporter” (Entertainment Weekly) Monica Hesse spent years investigating the story, emerging with breathtaking portraits of the arsonists—troubled addict Charlie Smith and his girlfriend, Tonya Bundick. Tracing the shift in their relationship from true love to crime spree, Hesse also conjures the once-thriving coastal community, decimated by a punishing economy and increasingly suspicious of their neighbors as the culprits remained at large. Weaving the story into the history of arson in the United States, the critically acclaimed American Fire re-creates the anguished nights this quiet county lit up in flames, evoking a microcosm of rural America—a land half-gutted before the fires began.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Who was burning down Accomack County? That was the problem plaguing the volunteer firehouses serving a tight-knit Virginia community that experienced more than 60 arsons over five months in late 2012. Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse spent several months living in the area, sifting through the aftermath and investigating the crimes. American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land looks at the intersection of economic hardship and rural boredom. Hesse’s book humanely appraises small towns that are being emptied out by progress, while also painting a riveting picture of a romantic entanglement that got way out of control.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Flows so well, I consumed this book in a day. Extremely engaging.
Couldn't Put Down
Very well written and draws you in to this bizarre story and relationship.
So well written, you'll think about it days or weeks after finishing.
Fascinating, compelling read
I didn't want it to end! Truly gripping, read this book now.