American Fire : Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
by Monica Hesse


Overview -

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.  Read more...


 
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More About American Fire by Monica Hesse
 
 
 
Overview

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.


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781631494512
  • ISBN-10: 1631494511
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publish Date: May 2018
  • Page Count: 272
  • Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.4 pounds


Related Categories

Books > True Crime > General
Books > History > United States - State & Local - South (AL,AR,FL,GA,KY,LA,MS,
Books > Social Science > Regional Studies

 
BookPage Reviews

Book clubs: New in paperback

The truth is stranger than fiction in American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, a hypnotic work of journalism by Monica Hesse that was one of the best books of 2017. In 2012, a series of arsons in downtrodden Accomack County, Virginia, put the locals on edge. Old, abandoned buildings—and there were plenty in Accomack County—were targeted, and in the end approximately 70 were destroyed. When Charlie Smith, a mechanic with a police record, was convicted of the arsons, he plead guilty, and Hesse, who reported on his hearing for the Washington Post, decided to delve more deeply into his case. Hesse learned that Smith’s girlfriend, Tonya Bundick, a mother of two fighting to make ends meet, had assisted with the fires. Set against the backdrop of a community in decline, the tale of Smith and Bundick’s relationship and the repercussions of their crimes make for a captivating page-turner. A gifted storyteller, Hesse delivers a compelling portrait of Accomack County and the lovers who tried to burn it down.

WONDROUS AND STRANGE
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TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
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This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews