Top-notch nonfiction legal thriller, reminding readers of the baseline: “This all comes down to one thing. It's all about...

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THE CYANIDE CANARY

EPA investigator Hilldorfer recounts his uncovering of a monstrous environmental crime, caught in all its venality and prosecutorial subterfuge.

Writing in the third person (assisted by novelist/lawyer Dugoni), Hilldorfer reminds readers that crimes against the environment, even those that directly impact human lives, are notoriously difficult to prosecute thanks to loopholes that have been gathering since the 1970s. But the crime recounted here was so blatant that defendant Alan Elias, even though represented by a particularly aggressive legal team, was sentenced to a $6-million fine and 17 years in prison. The outcome of the trial was far from a sure thing, however, and Hilldorfer’s tale does not necessarily renew faith in the legal process as regards the environment. Elias, who couldn't be troubled by “bothersome regulations,” owned and operated Evergreen Resources, a fertilizer plant in Idaho devoid of the most rudimentary safety precautions. He sent two men down into a tank to clear sludge containing hydrogen cyanide (“what the Nazis used to gas the Jews at Auschwitz”), and one of them, Scott Dominguez, suffered permanent brain damage. Initially, Hilldorfer recalls, he “equated the term brain damage to mental retardation . . . but Scott Dominguez knew what had happened to him, and that it had left him a prisoner in his own body.” The electrically charged narrative tells of former employees referring to Elias’s Evergreen Resources as “Everdeath,” and sums up Elias’s approach to employee safety in a comment prompted by one worker's ailments: “Fuck the headaches; fuck the dizziness; if you're not back to work on Wednesday, you're fired.” In economically depressed Soda Springs, Idaho, that could cause a man to jeopardize his life, as eloquently testified to by the holes in Dominguez’s basal ganglia.

Top-notch nonfiction legal thriller, reminding readers of the baseline: “This all comes down to one thing. It's all about money.”

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-4652-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...

THUNDERSTRUCK

A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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