American Fire

Monica Hesse '03

In her literary nonfiction debut, Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse '03 delivers a scorcher. A crime procedural, American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, has it all: courtroom theatrics, forensics worthy of CSI, gossip, and sex.

American Fire recounts the aftermath of an arson spree that hit Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the 2010s. Hesse covered the trial of the culprit—a local mechanic—and became fascinated by the story of the arsonist and his accomplice, a girlfriend who the New York Times reviewer described as “one of the great femme fatales in recent American crime stories.”

As tabloid-worthy as the tale Hesse tells may be, she never loses sight of the larger story. Once one of the country’s most prosperous areas, the Eastern Shore today is mired in rural poverty, with soul-crushing, low-wage jobs. (Liveright, 2017)