A few months ago, my friend Kenneth suggested I check out Book of the Month and I chose American Fire as one of my selections.

On the surface, American Fire is an exploration of who set nearly eighty fires in Accomack Country, Virginia in 2012 and 2013. But it is so much more than that, too. It’s an examination of rural America. Accomack used to be one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. Now, like so many other rural counties, it is more desolate as fortunes have shifted.

But there’s even more to the story, and that is the story of the arsonists, Charlie Smith and his girlfriend, Tonya Bundick.

American Fire is somewhat slow paced,  and didn’t have me turning pages at a frenetic pace, but it did keep me interested.  The sheer number of organizations involved in not only fighting the fires, but also trying to find the arsonist(s), is mind boggling.  We get insight into the approach of  the law enforcement agencies, the profiles they put together. The nearly overwhelming exhaustion of multiple volunteer fire departments fighting fires night after night. The home grown arson-finders.

And then, what is possibly the most interesting part. The motivations of Smith and Bundrick. How did they go from madly in love to setting 86 fires? And once you’re in an interrogation room, how far does that love go?

Monica Hesse began following this story for the Washington Post, and what she saw there sparked an interest in her that became American Fire. The writing is straightforward and clear.  She  includes first hand accounts where possible.  Without being dramatic, you feel the frustration of the first responders.

I don’t remember hearing about this case when it happened, although as I’ve done some googling, it was written up in the Washington Post, among other places.  I found the book to be fascinating, although as I said, a bit slow paced.  Still, this is one I recommend if for nothing more than its glimpse into the human psyche.