A prison disturbance becomes, implacably and inevitably, a disaster--in this gritty yet excessively didactic novel from the author of Howard Street and A Cold Fire Burning. Trenton State Prison is the location here, a horror of a place which Heard evokes in merciless detail, right down to the oil-soaked recreation yard (the oil is supposed to hold down the dust) and the kind of handles on the water spigots in the cells. A black prisoner, ""Beans"" Butler, and a white one, Casey Ryan, make an unlikely alliance to put forth a set of grievances. The threat of a prisonwide strike behind it is supported by all the disparate factions of the prisoner population: the Muslims, the queens, the neo-Nazis, etc. Not surprisingly, however, the administration--too generally terrified not to overreact--chooses to term the inmate ""action"" a ""riot"" instead, with slaughter as the disastrous upshot. And, until this grim ending arrives, Heard fills out his obvious scenario with: wooden penology debates behind the door of the warden's office; gruesome if obligatory looks at homosexual rape; and, above all, a frequently eloquent but eventually quite tiresome analysis of the prison situation. (""Prison was always a purgatory of conscious pain that never ceased, and men like Wally easily found relief through a cause while confined. Confinement filled them with a special kind of energy that directed itself away from the usual sports and entertainments, but still needed to be recognized--and died too quickly if it were not. But black nationalism was a dead issue in America; its graveyard was the prisons where men of no actual commitment to real political issues spilled heartfelt babble from their mouths like triphammers to nail their own coffin lids tight to effectively prevent catalytic reality from getting inside."") Knowledgeable, thoughtful, intimately detailed views of the prison crisis, then--but trowelled together so bluntly and predictably that the impact is severely diminished.