Imagine George V. Higgins without the showboating. Or Jimmy Breslin without the tiny attention span. And add in the sort of stripped-back, choked-down passion you find in early Arthur Miller. That's the tense, contradictory mix in this quietly riveting novel, which re-invigorates a familiar theme--the emotional crippling that goes along with the working-class, tough-guy ethos--through downbeat detail, perfect dialogue, and a creeping buzz of suspense. Frankie Coolin's not the most likable guy around. At 49, he's an all-around bigot, a scrounger, a two-bit Chicago contractor/slumlord who's first seen ripping the radiators out of a ""six-flat"" building he's readying for occupancy by blacks. But somehow you'll care about Frankie--as a dark dread starts draining the life out of him, a dread he can't admit or share: a while back, you see, Frankie let his wife's cousin use some warehouse space; and when the warehouse burned, stolen TVs were found in the rubble. So now two FBI guys keep coming around, threatening Frankie with jail unless he Tells All. And, though semi-innocent, Frankie clams up tight, gets some foreboding advice from a coarse/wise Jewish lawyer, and walks around like a man under a death sentence: not only did a jail-term virtually kill his Uncle Brian but Frankie knows that his extended family's frail status quo will collapse if he's sent away. Still, tough-guy Frankie can't talk about it--not to his bar buddies or his soft wife Rose or his resentful, sick brother John or his nephew-employee Joey or his old father (who lives in the basement). Only when the indictment gets closer and closer does he open up a little with his ""Polack"" son-in-law, with college-student son Mick. Then, finally, the nightmare does indeed begin: the arrest, the handcuffs, the neighbors watching. But both Rose and Mick surprisingly rise to the occasion; and Frankie's ultimate salvation involves more than just escaping the jail time. A simple story--with a slightly too-simple resolution in the transformed father/son relationship. But Griffith (pseudonym of a Chicago novelist/journalist) bleaches the sentimentality here with the two-by-four reality of life in ""the trades"" (construction), with raw, rending, comical speeches that never become self-consciously bravura in the Higgins manner. And, except for one or two small lapses (""the blade of a warning drawn across the neck of words""), the narration is profoundly plain--delivering understated terror or bitten-back heartbreak on nearly every page.