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Fire Lover: A True Story Hardcover – Apr 18 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (April 18 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006009527X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060095277
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,779,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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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

3.5 out of 5 stars
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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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By bill runyon on 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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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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