THE CYANIDE CANARY by Joseph Hilldorfer
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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. 21st, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-4652-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004


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