New York Times Bestselling Author

Book Review: True Crime > Arson

Posted on Mar 27, 2017 |

Fire Lover: A True Story by Joseph Wambaugh


True Crime > Arson

I found the first two thirds of this true crime story to be a page turner. I’ve never read a true crime book about a serial arsonist, let alone a serial arsonist who is the lead arson investigator for the Glendale Fire Department in Southern California —possibly the most prolific arsonist of all time. He wrote numerous articles about arson investigation and taught classes and was widely considered an expert. I’ve read news stories about volunteer firefighters starting forest fires in part to create work for themselves during the summer months, but this story was intriguing.

I already knew how difficult it is to prove arson and to link that arson to a specific person, but all the courtroom stuff grew a little tedious. It was interesting that Wambaugh for the most part took an impartial journalistic view of imparting the details that were uncovered and then every now and then he’d inject his opinion on which lawyer did a good job with his or her argument or a bad one.

It was also frustrating that John Orr refuses to accept guilt for any of it. What helped the lawyers for his case was a novel he wrote called Point of Origin, which was later made into a movie starring Ray Liotta. The story is about two firefighters, a good one and one an arsonist. If Orr would accept blame, psychologists and others would be able to study the mind of a serial arsonist and possibly gain insights as to the triggers (and possible treatment).

I was interested in this book because I’m interested in firefighters’ jobs in general, but I felt Wambaugh was only able to guess at what made Orr do the things he did, both with the women in his life and with his career. If you’re interested in this type of true crime, you’d like it; otherwise, I’d find another book to spend your time on.


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