Review of American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, by Monica Hesse
Alfred Hitchcock would have appreciated Monica Hesse’s new book, American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land. It is the true story of a series of arson fires in Accomack County, on Virginia’s mostly rural Eastern Shore, which Hesse initially covered as a reporter for the Washington Post. Wasting no time, she gives away the ending on the first page of the Preface – in fact, on the inside jacket. So we know from the outset that Charlie Smith pled guilty to setting sixty-seven fires, all in abandoned buildings, and that he confessed to the crimes shortly after he was apprehended. The book is highly suspenseful, however, because we still need to find out just how Charlie was finally caught in a remarkable spree that extended over five months and, more importantly, why he did it.