Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fire Lover: A True Story


Rating: 3 Stars

It has taken me quite a while to figure out how to review this book, as at the time it left me rather unsettled. Not by the content, but mainly from the perspective of, this book was not great, but the story was - if that makes sense. This is the only book I have read by the author, and was I was reading up on him I found he is formerly of the LAPD and writes both fiction and non-fiction of the thriller/mystery persuasion. I think that is where I figured out what was not quite sitting right with me - this is not a True Crime book in the classical sense, nor is there any mystery to it. We know from the beginning who is setting these fires and that he will be apprehended. But the author's writing style does not change in order to more fitfully tell the story, as there is still that fictional/entertainment flair he employs that I think does the book a disservice. It is not a bad book, and I still remained interested in learning about this case, but the tone definitely could have used some tweaking. And I will say, he also needs to relax on the italicized words and exclamation points. Seriously.

In this book we meet a man named John Orr who has been obsessed with fire from a young age, and would watch eagerly as a child as firefighters out out fires with little regard for themselves when duty called. He became a fire fighter as an adult, going on to become a fire captain and eventually a top-notch arson investigator who was well-known and highly respected.

Not coincidentally, he was also the giant d-bag who happened to be "the most prolific American arsonists of the twentieth century", deemed as such by a slew of government profilers. For years the area was plagued by an arsonist who always managed to slip through this fire chief's fingers. And make no mistake, these were not little campfires. Four people died during his rampage, and millions and millions of dollars worth of property was damaged or destroyed. I can't even imagine the shock that his colleagues must have felt when they discovered the arsonist was one of their own. We are not talking about a weekend volunteer firefighter here, but a man who started at the bottom and rose up through the ranks to become the Glendale Fire Department's lead arson investigator.This was man entrusted with a very important job, a man who wrote articles about his career field, who taught classes, who by all outward appearances was fully committed to his job. That's what makes his betrayal all the more difficult to reconcile, I suppose.

It is quite possible that Orr might never had been caught, had it not been for a few key breaks - and the fact that he literally wrote a book about a firefighter who was also an arsonist.


So Orr wrote a novel called Point of Origin and though he always called it fiction, once you know of his crimes it is pretty easy to see art imitating life. He called it fact-based fiction. The prosecution called it otherwise. They point to the certain details in the book that mirrored an unsolved arson case that he could not have known even through his own work as a lead investigator. Not so smart after all, hmm?

The story itself is incredibly frustrating, in that the case was actually solved FOUR YEARS before Orr was arrested. Marvin Casey, another arson investigator, put the evidence together and concluded it was none other than John Orr. Yet, no one bothered to listen, because it was preposterous that someone so good at their job, and so dedicated to their career could actually BE THE BAD GUY. In so many instances, Orr was seen at the scene of the fire and it was often chalked up to, "Wow, John Orr is super dedicated to his job and is always the first to arrive!" ...except we all know now that the real reason he was on the scene first is because he didn't leave after SETTING THE FIRE. Casey came to his conclusions in 1987. Orr was not arrested until 1991. In all likelihood, according to ATF agents, it is possible that John Orr set over two thousand fires in the seven years he was going around proving what a great investigator he was (there's some serious cop-envy here inside Orr's twisted mind. He wanted to be a police officer but didn't pass the test. Something in that test showed he was not fit to carry a gun. I'm shocked. SHOCKED).

So overall, it is not a terrible book and the story itself is engrossing. Some reviews have noted that they felt like the last parts of the book, regarding the trial, dragged on for them. There are sections that get pretty technical but I still found them useful and was not bothered by the trial aspects. What I am bothered by is that this horrible excuse for a human being could walk into a place of business and see families shopping, young children, the elderly, people just living their lives - and he did not care. He was on a mission to show everyone just how great he was, how smart he was, how much smarter he was than everyone else. He did received life in prison without the possibility of parole, and for a guy like this, I think it is a more fitting punishment than the death penalty would have been. Sociopaths think they are smarter and better, so the fact that he was caught and will live the rest of his life in a tiny cell is the worst punishment that could be doled out. Now he has to live with the knowledge that he didn't get away with it, that there is someone - a lot of someones - out there living their lives, who were smarter and even better at their jobs than he was.


  1. My husband was reading Wambaugh for a while but gave him up. I don't think I have read anything by him. I get REALLY bored by long courtroom scenes. Ha!

    1. His writing style is...different. This was my only foray and I am not sure if I would read a anything else. It wasn't a bad book, just odd at times. And the author's background as a former officer helped a lot.


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