American Fire

American Fire

Love, Arson, and Life in A Vanishing Land

Book - 2018
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"The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn't stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County -- once the richest rural county in the nation -- waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding one another with compassion at first, and, later, suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural coast. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. Local police were stretched thin. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, and by the dozen they were going up in flames. Over two years of investigation, Monica Hesse uncovered the motives of troubled mechanic Charlie Smith and his struggling accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick. In depicting dangerous shifts in their fraught relationship, Hesse introduces the once-thriving coastal community, decimated by a punishing economy and increasingly afraid. American Fire re-creates the anguished nights when this quiet county was set on fire, evoking a microcosm of rural America--a land gutted before the fires even began"--
Publisher: New York :, Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton and Company,, 2018
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781631494512
Branch Call Number: ANF 364.1642 HES
Characteristics: 252 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm


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Jan 27, 2021

rec from hillary

Feb 01, 2020

This tale is spellbinding. Couldn't put it down!!
Very readable .... short, focused chapters. Characters that the reader can relate to, and a story that the reader can understand and visualize.

Jul 28, 2019

Hesse’s tale of an arson spree in Accomack County, Va., “has all the elements of a lively crime procedural: courtroom drama, forensic trivia, toothsome gossip, vexed sex.”

Mar 19, 2019

Interesting book with several topics. One topic is the history of that strip of land that is on the east side of Chesapeake Bay. Another is how firefighters work. The book is a quick, easy read. It is also very recent history, not something that happened several decades ago. And it has a lot of human drama.

Feb 17, 2019

American Fire is a great book that retells the backstory of the location and people in detail. This is about a couple’s love(hopeless and boundless?) and the setting of more than 80 fires in a quiet town on the East Coast. Would recommend even to people not into crime or romance.

Oct 03, 2018

Kindle Immersion Read
'American Fire' moves along at a good clip, well-written and researched.
Even the Notes and end matter are fascinating.
What started out as a newspaper story developed into much more. Todd Godwin, Sheriff of Accomack County, told Monica Hesse he couldn't imagine anyone could write an interesting book about [his] county. Well, she proved the man wrong. Not only is it interesting, but it's also Impressive!

Sep 13, 2018

In this novelish crime non-fiction I was chasing around town with the firefighters, police, and the arsonists themselves. Or were they pyromaniacs? The amount of fires, the length of time the crimes went unsolved, and the reason for this crime spree is head scratching. 86 fires in Accomack County on Eastern Shore in Virginia is quite a binge. Hesse also paints a clear picture of an economic declining area where way of life is being replaced by chain stores and modern commodities.

Aug 25, 2018

This is a very good read, the author, now an editor at the Washington Post, wrote a book that grabs your attention and kept it. I'm glad she wrote this story ….this fascinating tale had to be told. I read a comment about lack of details on the crimes themselves, well two people were 100% involved, but, only one of them openly talked about it, while others depending on their role, i.e., firefighter, law enforcement, acquaintances, observers., etc., told what they knew {or could} which added to the fabric of the story, most good stories come together from bits and pieces and human recall that lend more than just facts, similar to supporting actors. Being arson investigations, not all of the records were wide-open on this topic, fire department and law enforcement staff told what they could however, some details were not open to the public for obvious reasons.

PimaLib_NormS Mar 14, 2018

In the literary world, there are few things I like better than a good ol’ 364 (364 refers to the Dewey Decimal number for criminology, otherwise known as true crime). Monica Hesse has penned a page-turner in “American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land”. I have read quite a few true crime stories over the years, and I never cease to be amazed at what people will do in the name of love. Of course, it usually is someone’s warped, even sick, version of love, but still. It has been said that love is blind, and the self-professed in love fire-setters in “American Fire” seemingly were blind to the possible consequences of running up to a building and torching it. These fires took place in Virginia’s Eastern Shore area, which is the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. It is economically depressed, rural, and somewhat isolated. It was rather easy for the arsonists to approach a building, light it up, and then take off. They were able to set 60+ fires in 5 ½ months before they were apprehended. It put quite a strain on the local volunteer fire departments and law enforcement, and Hesse does an excellent job of weaving their points of view together with the arsonists’ to form a coherent, even gripping, narrative. In other words, I liked it.

Mar 01, 2018

This book is written like a fictional story of a couple gone down the wrong path. Family neglect, drugs etc. are the usual suspects. What makes this "tale" so interesting is that it's all true. I could not put this down. Once I started I was fully committed & driven to learn the ending.

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