Part tabloid-style tearjerker, part sophisticated corporate exposÃ‰, by a former People magazine crime writer and bestselling author (The Strawberry Statement, 1969). On May 14, 1988, just outside Carrollton, Ky., a drunk-driving ne'er-do-well named Larry Mahoney slammed his Toyota pickup into a schoolbus carrying 63 children. The impact set the bus's fuel tank on fire. Twenty-seven died and 16 were hospitalized with burns. Only two families opted not to settle with Mahoney's insurers and the bus manufacturers. The Fairs, parents of Shannon, 14 when she died, and the Nunnallees, parents of Patty, who was 10, hired John P. Coale, Esq., the self-styled ""master of disaster"" who had represented the city of Bhopal in the Union Carbide gas leak. Coale charged the Ford Motor Company (and Sheller-Globe, which assembled the schoolbus for Ford) with ""consciously disregarding"" the danger they were creating by placing an unshielded fuel tank next to the front door of a bus that had ""flammable seats, inadequate emergency exits and a too-narrow aisle."" Kunen's lingering account of the crash and its aftermath makes for excruciating reading, especially when he abandons taste for cheap effect. For example, describing a videotape of Shannon and her friends forming a cheerleader's pyramid, he writes: ""Was that pyramid, in that room, in that house, in that moment, on a sort of raft, borne on a river of time toward a bus crash waiting downstream?"" Kunen is on firmer ground when he describes, in meticulous detail, Ford's long history of subverting national safety standards in the name of cost-effectiveness. The book's strongest section focuses on Ford's tawdry behavior during the trial (arguing, among other things, that a schoolbus is a ""truck,"" not a ""bus,"" and therefore not subject to the safety standards of passenger vehicles). You'll want to avert your eyes as Kunen recreates the accident in all its blood and tears, but hang on for some impressive corporate muckraking.