AFTER THE FIRST DEATH
A tough, double-barreled thriller which immerses readers, alternately, in the unexplained torment of young Ben Marchand and his father, who await each other in a prep school dorm, and in the tension aboard a hijacked school bus diverted to a rickety unused bridge. The driver is a young girl with a nervous bladder, her guard a teenage terrorist (his mentor nearby in a van) who is looking forward to his initiation: his first kill. Early on, one of the tranquilized child passengers dies of a drug overdose, and after the first death there are many others: three of the four terrorists are eventually shot; the wariest, most promising of the children is killed in retaliation for the first of the three; a soldier gets his while participating in a rescue attack; and then, crouching with him in the woods when it's almost over, the girl makes a false play for the young gunman's emotions and he shoots her. (We leave him, stepping off the last page, preparing to kill again for a getaway car.) Ben's death comes later, at his own hands, after we learn that he had been sent as envoy to the terrorists and set up by his father, a general in charge of negotiations, to "betray" his country with false information. Cormier does not so much refuse to mourn as refuse to compromise--which his merciless choice of victims and his tight-lipped projection of the Army side makes smashingly clear.