American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life In A Vanishing Land
Author: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Norton , 2017
Genre: Non-fiction, True Crime
Hardcover Edition: 240 pages plus notes
Source: Personal Copy
Author Monica Hesse writes a compelling narrative of multiple arsons in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, including an account of those involved: perpetrators, firefighters, law enforcement and citizens in that isolated rural area. She paints a clear portrait of life in that place.
Even if non-fiction is not your usual genre, this is true crime at its best. The depictions are vivid. At the end of each chapter without realizing it the reader begins the next chapter and reads on. It is more suspenseful than fiction. Who would set these fires and why? Most of the burned buildings are empty, the fires not particularly well-set. Everyone is suspicious. In a thinly populated area someone must know something.
Hesse is a talented writer, so much so I would read anything she puts her pen to paper to write. She does not sensationalize but keep things factual. Beyond that she is caring toward her characters, giving anyone and everyone the benefit of the doubt, a level of understanding seldom seen in the magazine world. She is a feature writer for the Washington Post and the author of a previous book of fiction Girl In The Blue Coat.
No book is perfect. The end of this one is perhaps a bit of a let-down, fading into the sunset after the high noon intensity of most of the story. As a reader I had cared so much about these characters through the main part of the book and now as I was about to leave them, well- not so much. Seems to me that is life.