Death of Innocents

Richard Firstman, Author, Jamie Talan, With
Richard Firstman, Author, Jamie Talan, With Bantam Books $24.95 (632p) ISBN 978-0-553-10013-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 632 pages - 978-0-553-37977-8
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-0-307-80698-7
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-03965-0
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This book is billed as the story of upstate New York district attorney Bill Fitzpatrick's five-year crusade to bring a child-killer to justice--30 years after the fact. In 1995, Waneta Hoyt was convicted of murdering her six children between 1965 and 1972 under the guise of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. In fact, though, the husband-and-wife journalist team have taken on a project of a far greater, even overwhelming, scope. The book begins somewhat unexpectedly with an entirely different set of murders disguised as SIDS that introduces the reader to Fitzpatrick; the legal research marking the Hoyt case isn't introduced for nearly 100 pages. The pacing remains awkward throughout. The turning point of the police investigation--Hoyt's interrogation and confession--comes fairly quickly, only to be interrupted by nearly 300 pages reconstructing Hoyt's childhood and the medical and social development of the SIDS movement. There are elements of a great true-crime story--the insights into Hoyt's motivations; the investigation leading up to her arrest; the mood in the courtroom from the jury selection through the dramatic verdict and sentencing--and Firstman and Talan are good writers, making complex legal and medical issues accessible through clever reconstruction of dialogue and prose that is remarkably free of melodrama. The section on SIDS is also a fascinating history of a politically charged medical debate. But in the final assessment, Firstman and Talan have overextended themselves: they have created one promising volume from the makings of two or even three truly good books. (Sept.)
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