Monica Hesse at Prince Books
Reading & Book Signing
Saturday, July 22, 2017
A breathtaking feat of reportage, American Fire combines procedural with love story, redefining American tragedy for our time.
Shocked by a five-month arson spree that left a rural Virginia county on the Eastern Shore reeling, Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse drove down to the desolate county of Accomack to cover the trial of Charlie Smith, who pled guilty to 67 counts of arson. But Charlie wasn’t lighting fires alone: his crimes were galvanized by a twisted love story. Over two years of reporting, Hesse uncovered the motives of this troubled addict and his struggling accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick. In depicting the dangerous shift in their passionate relationship, Hesse brilliantly brings to life the once-thriving coastal community and its distressed inhabitants, decimated by a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. Incorporating this drama into the long-overlooked history of arson in the United States, American Fire recreates the anguished nights this quiet county lit up in flames, mesmerizingly evoking a microcosm of rural America—a land half gutted before the fires even began.
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.