True Crime

American Fire

by Monica Hesse

Quick take

American Fire has a larger scope than just arson, and the story Hesse tells is grander than a simple crime spree plaguing a small town.

Why I love it

I have a confession to make: Over the last few years, I have become obsessed with true crime. From Serial to Making a Murderer and The People v. O.J. Simpson, it’s become my go-to genre. But the fixation really started more than a decade ago, when I was introduced to a book that remains among my top recommendations to this day: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote—a work of reportage and suspense that i...


The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist s...

Member thoughts

36% Love
52% Like
9% Dislike
  • Karin N.

    Chicago, IL

    "Really riveting true crime! A fun and informative book. If you like this I recommend the fiction book called The Shore by Sara Taylor which is set in the same region of Virginia."

  • Tyler O.

    Hollywood, FL

    "I loved how the author weaved together the story involving personal narratives, the science of arson, as well as the criminal investigation. I wish there had been more to the ending of the story."

  • Elizabeth H.

    Wichita, KS

    "I read this because it was recommended for people who liked S-Town. And that was a SPOT ON reccomendation! This book feels just like the podcast, and provokes just as many questions. "

  • Jennifer P.

    Indianapolis, IN

    "Fascinating story!"

  • Amelia P.

    Brighton , MA

    "Excellent true crime read. Loved that Hesse provided so much insight into the minds of the culprits and the minds of the community as a whole. I wish there had been a map of the fires and more photos!"

  • Elizabeth N.

    Mount Vernon, WA

    "Excellent job of telling the story of the people behind the crime and the community as a whole. "

  • Leslie K.

    Roswell, GA

    "After a slow start, I have started to look forward to picking up this book every day."

  • Nicole C.

    North Bergen , NJ

    "I love it when nonfiction reads not as a list of data but something far more than that. Hesse has done a wonderful job of making this narrative not about a crime but about a people and a place. "

  • Molly G.

    Chicago, IL

    "Such an interesting and weird, twisty story. I was captivated the whole time"

  • Annie M.

    Minneapolis, MN

    "I don't trypically read investigative jounalism but realy enjoyed this book, particularly how the author situated these events within a broader social context"

  • Karin F.

    Oak Creek, WI

    "Oh, the things we do for love. One troubled relationship has the power to ripple out into a whole county, apparently. Neat biography of a couple and of a county."