CIRCLE OF FIRE by Joyce Egginton

CIRCLE OF FIRE

Murder and Betrayal in the 'Swiss Nanny' Case
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A shattering real-life Hand That Rocks the Cradle account, by veteran true-crime writer Egginton (Day of Fury, 1991, etc.). The facts of this grisly case are still fresh in our collective memory: On December 11, 1991, three-month-old Kristie Fischer was incinerated in her infant seat as her Westchester, N.Y., home was set ablaze. The baby's nanny, an oddly impassive 20- year-old Swiss au pair named Olivia Riner, was immediately charged with arson and murder. Olivia became a tabloid celebrity as her telegenic lawyer, Laura Brevetti, took her case to the TV cameras on a nightly basis, leaking deceptive videotapes and dropping hints that two members of the Fischer family were responsible for the baby's death. Olivia was eventually acquitted, thanks to the borderline-unethical tactics of Brevetti, slipshod work by an underfunded police department, and a lame courtroom performance by the Westchester DA. The author confides that she began her research convinced of Olivia's innocence, but ``in the painstaking process of probing and unravelling, a different set of truths emerged.'' Egginton persuasively details a slew of circumstantial evidence suggesting Olivia's guilt, including her singed eyelashes, her failure to attempt to rescue Kristie, her indifference to the baby's fate after the fire, and her conflicting accounts of her actions before the fire. Egginton even hazards a surprising guess as to Olivia's motive for the crime (based on a study of 19th- century nannies performed by philosopher Karl Jaspers when he was a medical student): homesickness for Switzerland. This searing study of justice miscarried compassionately portrays the Fischer family struggling to deal with a horrific crime, the media, and a legal system that would ultimately betray them. The author asks some big questions, one of which will ring especially loudly in the ears of 10 million working women with children: ``How well does any mother truly know her nanny?'' Deeply disturbing and utterly convincing.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-688-10564-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994