Call Number
Material Type
Alfred Box of Books Library 1 364.164 HES Adult NonFiction Book
Branchport - Modeste Bedient Memorial Library 1 364.16 H Adult NonFiction Book
Corning - Southeast Steuben County Library 1 364.164 HES Adult NonFiction Book
Elmira - Steele Memorial Library 1 364.164 HES Adult NonFiction Book
Hammondsport - Fred and Harriett Taylor Memorial Library 1 364.164 HES Adult NonFiction Book
Horseheads Free Library 1 364.164 HES Adult NonFiction Book
Penn Yan Public Library 1 364.1642 HES Adult NonFiction Book
Wayland Free Library 1 364.164 HES New NonFiction Book
Wellsville - David A. Howe Public Library 1 364.164 HES Adult NonFiction Book

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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 seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate--there were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning.The culprit, and the path that led to these crimes, is a story of twenty-first century America. Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse first drove down to the reeling county to cover a hearing for Charlie Smith, a struggling mechanic who upon his capture had promptly pleaded guilty to sixty-seven counts of arson. But as Charlie's confession unspooled, it got deeper and weirder. He wasn't lighting fires alone; his crimes were galvanized by a surprising love story. Over a year of investigating, Hesse uncovered the motives of Charlie and his accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick, a woman of steel-like strength and an inscrutable past. Theirs was a love built on impossibly tight budgets and simple pleasures. They were each other's inspiration and escape...until they weren't.Though it's hard to believe today, one hundred years ago Accomack was the richest rural county in the nation. Slowly it's been drained of its industry--agriculture--as well as its wealth and population. In an already remote region, limited employment options offer little in the way of opportunity. A mesmerizing and crucial panorama with nationwide implications, American Fire asks what happens when a community gets left behind. Hesse brings to life the Eastern Shore and its inhabitants, battling a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. The result evokes the soul of rural America--a land half gutted before the fires even began.

Author Notes

Monica Hesse is a feature writer for the Washington Post. Winner of the Edgar Award and a finalist for a Livingston and James Beard Award, she is also the author of Girl in the Blue Coat. She lives in Washington, DC.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In late 2012, an arsonist began plaguing Accomack County, Virginia. Located on the state's Eastern Shore, part of the Delmarva peninsula, Accomack was once booming farm country situated along the railroad that profitably connected the U.S. north and south beginning in the 1880s. By 2012, though, chicken corporations Perdue and Tyson had supplanted family farms as the county's largest employers, and the railroad went unused. Over 80 buildings, most already abandoned on one occasion, a coop was torched only after its resident chickens had clearly been made to exit would burn into 2013, baffling local law enforcement and far overextending the fire departments, all made up of volunteers, from surrounding communities. Washington Post staffer Hesse, also an Edgar-winning author of a YA mystery, introduces the man responsible, Charlie Smith, a ne'er-do-well with a heart of gold, in the first chapter. She generates suspense in describing Charlie's personal life and all-consuming romantic relationship; how he is finally caught; and, ultimately, his motivation. Hesse enters the compelling narrative with restraint in probing, essayistic analyses. She tells the story of the fires and of the Eastern Shore and the people she got to know there with an earned familiarity that, at the same time, speaks of the unknowability of a vast, rapidly changing nation.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2017 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Washington Post reporter Hesse (Girl in the Blue Coat) leads readers on an extended tour of a bizarre five-month crime spree in rural Accomack County, Va.: a series of over 80 arsons, of predominantly abandoned buildings, committed by a local couple. It began one day in November 2012 with four fires in 24 hours and carried on for five months. As hysteria mounted, police camped out in tents near potential targets and a group of vigilantes set up their own operation. At the center of this narrative is the extremely compelling couple: Charlie Smith, a 38-year-old recovering drug addict, and Tonya Bundick, a 40-year-old partier described as the "queen" of the local nightclub, Shuckers. Hesse traces their romance from charming Facebook exchanges and plans of a Guns N' Roses themed wedding to passing notes in the prison yard after their arrest. Their love totally imploded under the pressure of their prosecution. Hesse offers sociological insight into a small town where "doors went unlocked, bake sales and brisket fund-raisers were well attended" despite its downward economic trajectory. There is something metaphorical, she notes, about a rural county suffering through a recession being literally burned to the ground. The metaphor becomes belabored by the time Hesse shoehorns in a comparison between small-town America and the aforementioned Shuckers, but otherwise this is a page-turning story of love gone off the rails. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

From November 2012 to March 2013, -Accomack County on the eastern shore of Virginia experienced a rash of arson. Sixty-seven fires were set in abandoned structures, which taxed volunteer fire departments and local and state law enforcement agencies in the largely rural area. Finally, authorities caught Charlie Smith in the act. He did not act alone, though. Smith's girlfriend Tonya Bundick was charged with assisting in the crimes. Hesse (Girl in the Blue Coat) pre-sents an account of the investigation into the crimes and the subsequent trials. She draws comparisons between Accomack County, a once thriving community now facing -economic downturn and declining population, with similar areas of the Unites States. Eventually, both Smith and Bundick pleaded guilty and served prison time. Reader Tanya Eby does an excellent job in shaping individual characters through changes in her voice. VERDICT Listeners who enjoy true crime stories will appreciate this one. ["A page-turning story of love and loss for all readers; fans of quirky crime dramas will find it especially appealing": LJ 5/15/17 review of the Liveright: -Norton hc.]--Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. -Parkersburg Lib. © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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