It's hard to imagine a character more luckless than Sam Pulsifer, the antihero of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. As a teenager he unwittingly sets fire to the Amherst home of poet Emily Dickinson, reducing it to ashes and snuffing out the landmark's docent and her husband in the process. He does ten years for his crime and returns home to find, to his utter amazement, hundreds of letters from people suggesting other famous authors' homes that deserve torching.
But Sam only wants to extinguish his fiery past and move on. With a new family, a career, and a life that's back on-track he keeps his incendiary history a secret until the unlucky day a stranger appears, introducing himself as the only child of the couple who died in the Dickinson House blaze. "You ruined my life," he tells Sam, "and now I'm going to ruin yours."
In short order the homes of Robert Frost, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville and other New England writers suffer suspicious blazes very much like Sam's trademark crime. His attempts to prove his innocence make for a darkly humorous story that will please any reader drawn to quirky characters, unlikely scenarios and a plot that twists and turns. At 305 pages it's a quick and satisfying read.