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Fire Lover: A True Story [Hardcover]

Joseph Wambaugh
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 18 2002
From master crime writer Joseph Wambaugh, the acclaimed author of such classics as The Onion Field and The Choirboys, comes the extraordinary true story of a firefighter who may have been, according to U.S. government profilers, "the most prolific American arsonist of the twentieth century."

Growing up in Los Angeles, John Orr would watch in awe as firefighters scrambled to put out blazes with seeming disregard for their own lives. One day he would become a fireman himself, and a good one. As a member of the Glendale Fire Department, he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a fire captain and one of southern California's best-known and most-respected arson investigators, as well as a writer of firefighting articles and finally of a fact-based novel. But there was another, unseen life, one that included many women, a need for risk, and a hunger for recognition.

While Orr busted a string of petty arsonists, there was one serial criminal he could not track down. The fire lover used the same simple yet devastating device and was unerring in his execution. His lethal handiwork led to the death of four innocent people and countless millions of dollars worth of property damage. Homes, retail stores during business hours, fields of dry brush in stifling summer heat -- little was safe from his obsession to see them burn.

But after years of terror and destruction, he would make a mistake. He would leave behind a precious clue that investigators would use to lead them to the true identity of the fire lover, to the shock and disbelief of the firefighting community.

Chilling, colorful, and vivid, Fire Lover is Joseph Wambaugh at his best. He explores the making of a deviant personality, the fascinating intricacies of fire science, the uneasy relationship between firefighting and law-enforcement communities, and a legal system gone haywire.Based on his trademark meticulous research, interviews, case records, and thousands of pages of court transcripts, Wambaugh fashions a powerful narrative. You will never look at fire the same way again.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Returning to print after a six-year hiatus, former LAPD detective sergeant and bestselling author Wambaugh (The Onion Field, etc.) focuses on firefighters rather than his usual police beat. It's a surprising switch, but Wambaugh's regular readers will not be disappointed, since sparks fly throughout this potent probe into the life of arson investigator John Leonard Orr. Fascinated by fires in his L.A. childhood, Orr learned fire fighting in the air force. An eccentric loner with few friends and a womanizer with a string of failed marriages, he was rejected by the LAPD and LAFD. In 1974 he joined the Glendale Fire Department, where his gun-toting, crime-crusading capers earned him the label "cop wanna-be" from both police and firemen. Rising in the ranks, Orr became well-known as an arson sleuth. He had a sixth sense for tracking pyros, but there was one serial arsonist, responsible for the deaths of four, who remained elusive. In 1990, during the worst fire in Glendale's history, some noted that Orr's behavior "seemed very peculiar." That same year, Orr was appointed fire captain and began writing a "fact-based novel" about a serial arsonist who turns out to be a firefighter and in it Orr revealed certain facts about the unsolved arson case that he couldn't have known through his work. Was Orr the serial arsonist? Wambaugh recreates these events for a suspenseful, adrenaline-rush account of what one profiler dubbed "probably the most prolific American arsonist" of the 20th century.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A tale of two men a respected fire chief and a prolific arsonist who turned out to be one and the same.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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South Pasadena is a small city of some twenty thousand residents who live within three square miles of mostly aging homes and limited commercial property. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange book about a strange character June 11 2004
Format:Hardcover
This is an unusual book. I don't think I've ever read a book about an arsonist before, certainly not a non-fiction book, and the story that it tells is so fantastic that it's one of those stranger-than-fiction tales that defies belief.
The book tells the story of John Leonard Orr. Orr was a frustrated individual, from a split household, who tried to become a policeman and failed, and wound up becoming a firefighter, both in the Air Force and then in the city of Glendale here in Southern California. He rose to become Glendale's senior arson investigator, actually teaching classes that other arson investigators, even Federal ones, attended. He was considered one of the leading authorities on arson fires and arsonists in California. Then suspicion fell on him and his activities, and he was arrested and accused of being an arsonist himself. The accusation was followed by a pair of trials.
Now I live in Montrose (yards from the border of the city of Glendale) and used to actually live in Glendale, so it was interesting to read about the locale and the people of my new home (I've lived here for five years). Everything's reasonably well-recreated, though I didn't think Glendale was made that unique compared with other Southern California cities. Orr comes across as something of a nerd, a doofus who's always trying to fit in while never quite making it, and always cheating on the current wife with the prospective one, while paying child support to the ex.
Wambaugh's writing style is interesting, in that he uses a lot of slang and emphasis to show what he means, and has a very conversational style. It'd be interesting to hear Ken Howard read this book: it reads as if it would sound better than it looks on the page.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary case, well documented Dec 4 2002
Format:Hardcover
I first became aware of this strange and startling case several years ago via a PBS documentary, probably a Frontline production. I was just stunned: a fire captain exposed as a pyromaniac. Obviously the man had some serious "issues" with life, the world, and especially himself. In this lucid, detailed and somewhat spicy narrative, former LAPD detective sergeant and crime writer extraordinary Joseph Wambaugh expands on what was presented in that documentary. His tone and editorial attitude make it clear that he doesn't think much of one John Leonard Orr, former Glendale, California fire captain, who was eventually convicted of setting a string of fires in California. I don't blame Wambaugh. One of the fires that Orr started killed four people, including a child. It's only by fortuitous happenstance that more people were not killed.
Wambaugh's narrative is a little too detailed in recalling the trials, especially the long drawn out penalty phase of the murder trial (perhaps attempting to make it as excruciating for us as it was for the jury); and his early attempt at not disclosing Orr's culpability (for those very few readers who may not have heard of the case) came up a little short as his asides made it clear that Orr was definitely one very sick puppy. Otherwise this is a masterful piece of true crime journalism by someone who has the background to understand the police and detective work involved, someone who has done the extensive research necessary to give us a comprehensive account, and someone with the narrative and organizational skills to produce a compelling volume.
But Wambaugh also gives us a detailed psychological profile of John Orr. He does not use the word "pyromaniac" in his depiction.
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3.0 out of 5 stars o.k. entry Oct. 8 2002
Format:Hardcover
Wambaugh is justly considered one of our best fiction writers,
and he is a master at the police procedural. Unhappily, this
entry is merely o.k., and the tenseness and plotting are not up
to his usual quite high standard.
The story is about a fire fighter who turns out to have been
setting fires himself, and it concerns the clues that various
law-enforcement men and a task force slowly uncover before
finally beginning to focus on the Glendale, CA arson investigator.
The most interesting part of the story is Wambaugh's explanation
of the different mind-set of the two types of people involved:
cops and firefighters, and how those differences affect their
view of the crime and possible suspects. Cops and firefighters
view the world quite differently, as does the world view them
in dissimilar lights.
And Wambaugh understands these differences.
In addition, he presents a couple of firefighters who have
uneasy feelings about the crimes and how the cops are responding
to them, and he explores how these two men have to work so
hard to try to convince the cops they might be missing something.
This is an interesting story, but the tension and drama just
are not there. The crimes took place over a period of many
years, and most of them were low-key, and we have to factor in
the fact that the defendant/criminal kept insisting, even after
he plead guilty to some of them, that he was not really guilty.
In addition, the prosecutors never required the guy to explain
his motivations or reasoning, and the system never developed
a coherent theory of why the defendant behaved as he did, even
though he was considered one of the most active serial-arsonists
in American history.
So the lack of great drama and tension in the story may not be
the result of Wambaugh at all; maybe the great, exciting story
we expected was just never there at all.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too long
I think he could have written in 200 words or less that he hated John Orr, thinks cops are better than firemen, and thinks prosecutors should always have the upper hand. Read more
Published on Dec 19 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Totally biased, arrogant author
This is the first Wambaugh book that I've read. I've heard lots of good things about his books. I work in law enforcement and have enjoyed other true crime books written by... Read more
Published on Dec 19 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Fire Lover :: An Excellent Book
Fire Lover has a depressing and sad beginning, but later on, turns into a wonderful novel worth reading. Mr. Read more
Published on July 15 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying book by Joseph Wambaugh
Fire Lover is the story of arsonist John Orr and the long investigation and prosecution it took to bring him to justice. Read more
Published on June 8 2003 by Lisa Bahrami
1.0 out of 5 stars He just hates him......
I have enjoyed Wambaugh's other true crime books, and watched for this one to go on the Best Seller lists. When it didn't, I decided to buy it anyway.....And I wish I hadn't. Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars A terrifyingly true story.
As has been true with Wambaugh's other non-fiction books, the story is captivating and intense. The Wambaugh fan is treated to more of the author's earthy prose. Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2002 by Tony Sanchez
5.0 out of 5 stars Good as Always
Until Fire Lover, it had been too long since Wambaugh presented us with a new book. If you liked his other stories, you will like this one, too. Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2002 by Steven L. Turner
1.0 out of 5 stars The Two Faces of John L. Orr
Whether you liked Fire Lover or not you won't want to miss reading 'Points of Origin...playing with fire' the book written by the criminal profiled in Fire Lover. Read more
Published on July 31 2002 by clarifier
2.0 out of 5 stars Just a few items
Rather than go into an in-depth review, I'll just make note of a couple of things that I found to detract from this book. Read more
Published on July 16 2002 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars What Wambaugh Does Best
James Wambaugh has a long and somewhat successful history of writing both fictional and non-fictional stories. Read more
Published on July 12 2002 by Mr. Patrick N. Renaud
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