As our 3-year-olds frolicked about recently, a local cop friend started bending my ear about the book Circle of Fire, which tells the tragic tale of a Swiss nanny in Mount Pleasant and the gruesome death by fire of the newborn, Kristie Fischer, she was tasked with minding.
Not my thing, I thought. But being a polite fellow, I nodded and said I’d keep the book in mind.
When our kids were around 3 1/2, the cop friend started talking up the book again. This time, he actually slipped me the hardcover copy of it. What could I do, except read the damn thing? After all, the guy’s a cop, and my only good contact on the local force.
Sixty pages in, Circle of Fire isn’t bad. The writing (by Joyce Egginton) is B- work, and the story is interesting, though newborn murders are not exactly heartwarming fare.
As coincidence would have it–and I didn’t realize this until just now–the fatal fire on West Lake Drive took place exactly 18 years ago today: Dec. 2, 1991, and perhaps forever sullied the term “Swiss au pair”–though Olivia Riner was acquitted.
What’s really interesting about Circle is that it’s such an under-the-microscope look at the Thornwood-Hawthorne-Valhalla area. Cop chief Louis Alagno is in there, and Mount Pleasant supervisor Robert Meehan is too. In fact, the book suggests considerable ill will between local government and local police–though not specifically between Alagno and Meehan.
The dour entertainment options facing a young nanny in Thornwood, NY are painstakingly depicted.
“She was allowed the occasional use of a family car; even so, it was hard to imagine where in the Thornwood area a girl like Olivia might want to go. Certainly not to the bar by the railroad station [Editor’s Note: the boozy watering hole Gordo’s in Hawthorne, or the more family friendly boite Valhalla Crossing in ‘halla?] or the neighborhood McDonald’s, which were popular meeting places for local young people.”
Egginton makes some errors that only local residents would notice or care about. One page one, no less, she describes Thornwood as “rural” (was it really rural as recently as 1991?) and refers to it as an “exurb” of NYC (Exurbs lie beyond the suburbs. Thornwood is a suburb.) And Egginton repeatedly refers to Thornwood, Valhalla and Hawthorne as “villages,” though they’re in fact hamlets.
“At its hub the three adjoining villages of Thornwood, Valhalla and Hawthorne are so interdependent as to be essentially one community. Thornwood has the two neighboring shopping centers, Valhalla has the town hall and police headquarters, and Hawthorne the railroad station on a commuter line to New York City.”
Of course, Valhalla too has “the railroad station on a commuter line to New York City,” but that’s picking nits.