It seemed like all of Accomack County, Virginia, was ablaze: abandoned houses, sheds, garages and commercial structures were set on fire night after night after night. In the late fall of 2012 any unoccupied structure was fair game for the arsonist, and the rural, economically depressed Eastern Shore had plenty of those to spare. Sixty, seventy, eighty fires, the number kept climbing as 2012 smoked and crackled into 2013 and the serial arsonist continued to light up the night.
The people of Accomack County were going absolutely crazy. Who was this guy? Neighbor warily eyed neighbor. Law enforcement set up road blocks and questioned everybody out late. Weary volunteer firefighters prayed for an end to the madness while the best FBI profilers puzzled over the arsonist’s motive. Was it revenge? Insurance fraud? Pyromania? It never occurred to them to consider one of the most powerful motives of all — love.
American Fire by Monica Hesse is an outstanding account of a helpless county besieged by a crime they could neither understand nor stop. American Fire is not just a true crime narrative, but also a sociological portrait of a struggling community, and, at its heart, a story of love that went very, very wrong.