Picks and Pans Review: The Death of Innocents

updated 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan

When Waneta Hoyt's infant son Eric died suddenly and inexplicably in 1965, residents of rural Newark Valley, N.Y., felt nothing but sympathy for their quiet neighbor. After her second child died mysteriously three years later, they felt even worse. But when a third child died, again for no apparent reason, Waneta Hoyt's neighbors started whispering.

Even so, it took another 24 years—and two more deaths—before Hoyt was finally found guilty, in 1995, of smothering her five children. These are the unthinkable events at the heart of this spellbinding true-crime story. As grippingly paced and plotted as a legal thriller, Innocents examines the mind-boggling mistakes and dubious motives that led coroners, law enforcement officials and an influential Syracuse doctor to conclude that Hoyt's children all died of a little-understood disease—sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS—in effect granting the attention-craving Hoyt a blank check to kill again and again.

Husband-and-wife journalists Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan also unravel the painstaking police investigation that culminated in Hoyt's full confession and sentence of 75-years-to-life in prison. Not that her jailing offers satisfying closure; by the time the elderly Hoyt is hauled away, she's too sad and feeble to make a tidy villain. An expert telling of a tragic, complex tale, Innocents will leave readers sorting through a jumble of emotions. (Bantam, $24.95)

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