Publisher: Dreamscape Media
Narrator: Tanya Eby
Edition: Audiobook, 7 Hours 27 Minutes
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime
Purchase: Amazon / Audible / Barnes & Noble
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Shocked by a five-month arson spree that left rural Virginia reeling, Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse drove down to Accomack County to cover the trial of Charlie Smith, who pled guilty to 67 counts of arson. But Charlie wasn’t lighting fires alone: he had an accomplice – his girlfriend, Tonya Bundick. Through her depiction of the dangerous shift that happened in their passionate relationship, Hesse brilliantly brings to life the once-thriving coastal community and its distressed inhabitants, who had already been decimated by a punishing economy before they were terrified by a string of fires they could not explain.
Incorporating this drama into the long-overlooked history of arson in the United States, American Fire re-creates the anguished nights that this quiet county spent lit up in flames, mesmerizingly evoking a microcosm of rural America – a land half gutted before the fires even began.
American Fire is an in depth look at an arson spree that started in 2012 in a small rural town of Accomack County Virginia.
I listen to books while I work. Most of the time I listen to a bit of one, get restless or my mind wanders and I end up taking breaks. On occasion, I’ll find that one book that I’m utterly hooked on and my headphones stay in my ears no matter what. American Fire is one of those books. I had heard of the case back when it made national news, but I didn’t follow it and before hitting play on the audio many of the details were nonexistent in my mind.
American Fire focuses on a spree of arsons that happened over five and half months in Accomack, Virginia. When I say spree I don’t mean five or six, I mean sixty-seven. This novel takes from the first fire to the very last, and a little beyond. The beginning introduces us to the different players (without stating who is involved in the crime itself) and gives us a nice up-close look at the area and its history. I went in expecting to read about just the crime but instead ended up learning quite a bit about the county’s economic struggles and a lot about the volunteer fire department.
The best part of this book is the un-bias look at the events. It’s told in a straightforward manner and it seems Hesse took the time to interview as many of the people involved as possible. It’s an easy read and the content seems to fly by once you get into it. The audiobook makes for an excellent listen as well and I certainly recommend it.
If you enjoy true crime or really like documentaries about crimes then this is one to check out. If you’re not too sure if true-crime is your thing, then I think this would be a good book to test the waters with. It’s not about a violent crime, it’s unbias, quick, and really gets into the motivations and backgrounds of the people involved. I do recommend that you go into this book a bit blind to the actual case, so that you get the full enjoyment of finding out the who and the why.