“Monica Hesse’s book reads like a great article you never want to end. The Washington Post feature writer has turned a one-off assignment in rural Accomack County, Va., into a stunning read.”
Featured in NPR’s Book Concierge Great Reads of 2017.
“Hesse tells the story of 67 fires set in Virginia during a five-month arson spree, beginning in 2012, and the mystery of why a local auto mechanic was behind them.”
Featured in New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2017.
“An expertly crafted account of a string of 86 arsons on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the pair of lovers who set the fires.”
Featured in Washington Post’s 50 Notable Non-Fiction Books of 2017.
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land is a story filled with suspense and uncertainty. Hailed as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2017 and as New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, it is a must read.
An arsonist starts setting buildings afire upon a cold November night and he terrorizes the people of Accomack County for months. The population of the desolate, rural Virginian town soon regard each other with suspension as the identity of the perpetrator is unknown.
The people become vigilant and set up patrol groups with camouflage and cameras. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations and local police are stretched thin with the effect to capture the arsonist. After weeks of uncertainty and having several structures, especially abandoned buildings burned to the ground, they make a break in the mysterious case.
This is just the kind of story Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse covers. When she arrives in the town, a hearing for Charlie Smith, a struggling mechanic who has pleaded guilty to sixty-seven counts of arson is underway.
Smith’s confession to the crimes reveals that he had not been working alone, unveiling a surprising love story. His girlfriend and partner in crime is Tonya Bundick, a woman strong woman with an enigmatic past. The story of their love for each other and subsequent crimes is one that not only impacted Accomack but the nation.
Accomack was once the richest rural county in the nation. But one hundred years ago, its agricultural industry crumbled and so did its wealth and population. The remote county offered very few employment options or any other opportunities. The actions of Smith and Hesse and the subsequence coverage that American Fire brings to light the implications of a communities that gets left behind and the struggles this rural American town, and others, faced before the fires.