cover image The Cyanide Canary

The Cyanide Canary

Robert Dugoni, Joseph Hilldorfer. Free Press, $26 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-4652-1

The title refers to the cyanide in a tank that left Scott Dominguez, a worker at an Idaho plant, brain-damaged after an accident in 1996. As in a good thriller, the accident takes place in the first few pages, and the rest of the book is devoted to the legal case that followed. Dugoni, a freelance writer, and Hilldorfer, one of the Environmental Protection Agency investigators in the case, leave no doubt about who the bad guy is in this story: he's the plant's owner, Allan Elias, who had a long history of skirting the law in environmental matters. Using the memories of Hilldorfer and others involved in prosecuting the case, the authors build their story. They drive the narrative well in the book's first half (they're particularly strong in portraying the personalities of both the investigators and the witnesses in the case), but the story loses momentum when the case comes to the courtroom. The trial is depicted blow-by-blow, and, until the verdict is given, some of the outrage of the earlier pages is lost amid the minutiae of the legal system. Still, this book successfully fleshes out the excitement and the difficulty of prosecuting environmental criminals in the U.S.