One unhackneyed character and a slew of page-by-page authenticities almost redeem the fundamental nonsense-premise behind this duel with IRA bombs in ""present-day"" London. Explosives expert David Thomas is that singular character, a lonely, frustrated retired Major plagued by class-consciousness (his insubordinate outbursts have cost him promotion), knighthood fantasies and terror--and an unfamiliar sensation--while performing his new assignment: dismantling the IRA's increasingly intricate, home-made nasties. So far, so good, but the Home Secretary (an ass) has an ingenious (?) plan for capturing and/or distracting the IRA's theoretical master bomb-maker. Thomas will boast publicly that he can neutralize anything the Irish can build; the offended virtuoso will start designing and planting specifically to kill Thomas; this man-to-man tilt will bring the bomb-man out into the open. Huh? Bad enough the Home Secretary should dream this up--worse yet: it works, sort of, as we watch young electro-whiz Peter Reilly of Belfast and Boston (non-violent till his father was maimed by a Protestant bomb) rise to the bait and drop clues left and right while he stows his deadliest ticktickers yet at the Tate and then in the House of Commons. The absurdity may lead readers to defuse early on, more of a pity than usual since Atwater writes whisky-raw conversations along with the cool, quiet countdowns--and has the guts to let his hero be unattractive, knotty, and only intermittently courageous.