This guest post and book giveaway comes from upcoming Crime Cafe guest Joel Burcat. An author of environmental legal thrillers, a concept that in itself I find thrilling. 🙂

Check out the details of his giveaway after you read his post. It’s a three-book giveaway, so you should definitely get in on that.

So … without further ado, let’s hear from Joel!

Environmental Crime Thrillers and the Gray Area

By Joel Burcat

We’ve all read crime thrillers about police and crooks, our spies and their spies, good guys and bad guys, psychopaths, sociopaths, and so on. I write thrillers about environmental crime. Oddly, few thrillers have been written about environmental crime. Grisham has written a few good ones. The grand-daddy of the modern environmental thriller is Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. There are others, but not many (I have a list on my website: ). Ironically, some of the best environmental thrillers are not fiction: The movie Erin Brockovich, Dugoni’s The Cyanide Canary, Harr’s A Civil Action, and the movie Dark Waters are all based on true stories.

There are many crimes against people and the environment. This can include dumping of hazardous chemicals in a river, mining without proper permits or reclamation, illegal activities at fracking sites, destroying wetlands, dumping solid wastes, water pollution, air pollution, climate change-related issues, and many more. These prompts and more should provide plenty of opportunities for crime writers, but the library shelf is not full.

The news media generally paint environmental issues in black and white. Some issues in fact are plainly wrong. In my first novel, Drink to Every Beast, the bad guys have dumped hazardous waste in a river and caused two teenagers to die. Nothing about that is justifiable. That is a crime.

My experience shows me that many environmental issues are multi-faceted:

  • Should we look at fracking and natural gas simply as an environmentally-damaging, terrible means of getting energy which increases global warming and climate change and that ought to be banned? Or, do we view the natural gas as a fuel that is cleaner than coal and oil and worth using until other energy sources are more practical?
  • Do we view nuclear energy as an extremely dangerous means of generating electricity? Both mining for nuclear material and disposal of nuclear waste present significant and long-lasting environmental harm. Nuclear accidents have been horrific and have presented unprecedented environmental degradation. Or, do we view nuclear power as a carbon-free means of generating huge amounts of electricity that will power your electric automobile, stove, HVAC, and more? Nuclear energy itself has no negative impact on climate change and global warming (mining for nuclear materials has a climate change impact).

Not surprisingly, things we think of as environmentally good, have a dark side. We are encouraged to aspire to driving non-carbon emitting electric cars. Yet, your electric car battery needs large amounts of lithium carbonate, nickel, manganese and cobalt. None of these metals are without environmental consequences. One report identifies the Democratic Republic of Congo as the leading supplier of cobalt and Chile as a major supplier of lithium:

DRC cobalt extraction and processing paints a stark picture: by some estimates there are more than 40,000 children put to work in the DRC’s artisanal cobalt mines with little concern for occupational safety, let alone the illegality of child labour. In Chile, lithium mining, a water-intensive business, has crowded out the agricultural sector and contributed to increased soil contamination. Risky Business: The Hidden Costs Of EV Battery Raw Materials, Automotive World (downloaded 7/13/22).

One thing is for certain, environmental issues are complicated, involve lots of science, are subject to simplistic slogans (on all sides), and full of gray areas. If my writing entertains my readers, teaches them something they didn’t know, and makes them think about their actions, then I have succeeded.

The stories I write involve people who are more or less normal. Often the “good guys” make huge mistakes and find themselves trapped in gray zones. Sometimes the bad guys are barely discernible from the good guys. Clearly, readers are entertained by reading about super-heroes, larger-than-life protagonists (I’m looking at you, Jack Reacher, ya big lug), people who are tenth-degree black belts, battle-hardened sharp-shooters, evil genius computer hackers, etc., etc. My characters are not that. While my characters are very entertaining, I want my readers to say, “That could be me. I could do that. What would I do?”

I like to write in the gray areas. The zone that makes the reader uncomfortable when they begin realizing they identify with the “bad guy.” I hope this moves my readers to consider their actions and, perhaps, to make a few adjustments in their lives.

Come play with my characters in the gray areas.


I’m doing a 3-book giveaway. Three winners will each win a copy of one of my Mike Jacobs environmental thrillers: Drink to Every Beast, Amid Rage, and Strange Fire. The books will be autographed. To enter, please go to my website, and on the contact page send me your name, address, and email, and I will do a random drawing of those who participate. My apologies, but I have to limit this contest to those living in the US, since it would be extraordinarily expensive to mail books outside of the US.


Joel Burcat is an author and environmental lawyer. He has had three novels published by Headline Books, Inc.: DRINK TO EVERY BEAST, AMID RAGE, and STRANGE FIRE. His published books are environmental legal thrillers dealing with dumping hazardous waste, strip mining, fracking, and climate change. They have won numerous awards, including a PennWriters award and finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. He is an active member of the International Thriller Writers and PennWriters.

As an environmental lawyer, Burcat has worked in government and private practice. He was selected as the 2019 Lawyer of the Year in Environmental Litigation (for Central PA) by Best Lawyers in America. He has been designated by both “Super Lawyers” and “Best Lawyers” for environmental and oil and gas law and has won the Pa. Bar Association’s annual award for environmental law. He is a  graduate of Vermont Law School (J.D.) and The Pennsylvania State University (B.S.).

In addition to his law practice, he has written parts of and edited two award-winning non-fiction treatises on environmental and oil and gas law and has written numerous professional articles on environmental law. He is now retired from the practice of law.

Burcat lives in Harrisburg, Pa. with his wife, Gail.

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