Man of the Hour

David Fitzgerald is a familiar character in American fiction—the idealistic English major who aspires to be a creative writer but winds up teaching in an inner-city high school, where he tries to “get through to” indifferent or overtly hostile kids. His world collapses, however, when Nasser, an embittered Palestinian drop-out, plants explosives under the bus scheduled to take David’s class on a field trip. An overnight media hero for saving a girl’s life, David later becomes a suspect when experts combing the wreckage discover a satchel resembling his own. The plot is reminiscent of the media blitz surrounding security guard Richard Jewell, a hero, then prime suspect, finally exonerated in the FBI investigation of the 1996 Olympic games bombing in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sixty-four terse chapters alternate between Palestinian fanatics preparing to strike again and David fighting to exonerate himself, his chaotic life further complicated by borderline-psychotic Renee Fitzgerald, who wants full custody of their little son Arthur, and Judy Mandel, a reporter who uses sex appeal to scoop competitors. At the book’s climax Nasser infiltrates the school cafeteria with enough dynamite taped to his body to kill or mutilate every teenager inside.

Peter Blauner, a talented writer, has a weakness for ostentatious figures of speech (“She was like a faceful of cold rain . . .”) and multi- hyphenated adjectives (“. . . a granny-fell-down-the-elevator-shaft-story . . .”). His other novels include Slow Motion Riot, which won the 1992 Edgar Allen Poe Award for best first novel, and 1996 bestseller The Intruder.