The definitive prison blockbuster -- raw and brawling -- perhaps necessarily overlong as it piles details and encounters and endlessly intertwined relationships into a powerful and engrossing first novel by a writer in the James Jones tradition. ""The rap"" refers as much to the guards as the inmates they supposedly protect both from society and each other -- for they are as much locked into prison life as the convicts. Specifically this applies to Little Arv, son of a prison sergeant, and his pal and brother-in-law, Fast-Walking Miniver, son of the warden, who both exist in the shadow of Little Arv's satanic cousin Wasco Weed, Arv's feared (yet perversely admired) childhood bully companion. Wasco has been promised he'll be let off a murder rap if he only offs William Galliot, a black militant leader in the clink on trumped-up charges. Waste uses his wife, an other-worldly (but definitely not ethereal) Hawaiian water freak named Moke to sucker in Arv -- who, knowing this, goes along anyway, loving her with crazy passion -- as she sets him up for official blackmail by getting him to smuggle in letters to Galliot. But even the best-laid plans of cons and criminal bureaucrats go wrong. As Moke falls for Arv, the blacks use their escape plan in the nick of time, and Arv -- the presumed hatchet man -- has the choice of shooting his cousin or Galliot. As a former guard, the writer presents an enormous amount of authentic fascinating info on stuff like prisoner hierarchy (as complex and corrupt as the one outside) and pimping; his characters are both improbable and believable, and the writing is as tough and gritty as it should be -- and then some.