On the night of July 18-19, 1969, a black Oldsmobile sedan plunged over the edge of a narrow bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Martha's Vineyard. The overturned car, submerged in the swirling waters beside the bridge, was not discovered until morning. Inside the car was the body of Mary Jo Kopechne. A short while after the discovery -- though many hours after the time of the accident -- Edward Moore Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and a potential leading candidate for the Presidency of the United States, walked into the Edgartown police station on Martha's Vineyard and said that he had been the driver of the car.

Thus began -- just as, ironically, the Apollo astronauts were speeding toward man's first rendezvous on the moon -- yet another tragic ordeal involving a Kennedy, an ordeal fraught with confusion, mysterious discrepancies and unforeseeable political consequences for both Senator Kennedy and the nation. In the weeks that followed, the accident and the events surrounding it, as they were explained and rumored and theorized upon, became, for many, only more mysterious, more suspect, more impenetrable. As the questions multiplied, the possible answers seemed to recede, until a majority of Americans came to believe that the whole truth had not been told. According to some, the whole truth would never be known.

Jack Olsen, an experienced and award-winning reporter, went to Chappaquiddick Island initially to research a book that would deal with the tragedy in terms of its political consequences, its social implications, and the light it could shed on the demands (on character, on style, on public and private behavior) of being a Kennedy, of being heir to a great and tragic political legacy, of being specifically Ted Kennedy -- suddenly thrust into the unaccustomed role of hero and hope for a large segment of the American people who had, like this last surviving youngest brother, seen two previous heroes cruelly cut down.

But as Olsen examined and reexamined the scene of the accident and interviewed and reinterviewed the islanders who knew anything about it, it became clear that his book -- this book -- would not only explore the broader implications, but would also have to fathom the tragedy itself, in explicit detail. For Olsen had begun to find the inexplicable explicable after all; the pieces of the puzzle began to fit.

Olsen's original intentions are contained in The Bridge at Chappaquiddick, a precise and detailed account of the hour-by-hour and day-by-day events of the accident, events shocking and dramatic that have already reverberated throughout the American political scene. To this carefully and closely researched account has been added a reconstruction of what may have actually happened on the night of July 18-19, an explanation that is as new and startling as it is coherent.

Jack Olsen is a senior editor at Time Incorporated. He has been a police reporter, feature writer, radio and television newswriter and newscaster, magazine writer and editor, and has won numerous journalism awards. Among his many books are Black Is Best: The Riddle of Cassius Clay, The Climb Up to Hell, Silence on Monte Sole, Night of the Grizzlies, and the forthcoming Book-of-the-Month Club selection, Aphrodite: Desperate Mission, an account, written before Chappaquiddick, of the World War II mission in which the first of the Kennedy brothers, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., was killed.