With its inspired and brilliantly realized setting--the raw maw of a maximum security prison--Smith's new thriller (Daydreams, 1987; many paperback mysteries as Roy LeBeau) is a standout, despite digressive plotting: a harrowing tale of a jailed professor who sleuths out a con-killer. As the long (560 pp.) story opens, Charles Bauman, 44, is no longer a ""fish"" at huge, decaying ""State,"" having served over a year of five for fatally hit-and-running a teen girl while legally drunk. A former history prof, Bauman does his time training boxers at the gym, tutoring literacy skills (hourly charge: ""two packs, or a bomber joint and one pack, filters""), and hanging out with the unforgettable cast of cons who inhabit these dark, fearful pages--from transvestite Betty (who delights in wearing dresses and serving Bauman Twinkles in her ""house"") to Bauman's grimy biker cellmate, Scooter. Not an intolerable life--especially with frequent, illicitly conjugal visits from young wife Suzanne--but then Bauman is braced by a state's attorney: agree to ferret out the unknown killer who's offed at least two cons, or lose any chance at parole. And what's worse, Pete Nash, psychopathic head of the dominant ""Lifer's Club,"" soon learns of Bauman's mission, ""deputizes"" him by having him branded with a sheriffs star formed of cigarette burns, and forces him to track down the killer on behalf of the cons, who suspect a prison guard's involvement. Sidekicked by a saucy homosexual, Bauman (when not indulging in sloshy, overlong memories of college life) begins his manhunt, one that takes him into the violent workings of the other clubs ruling the prison and that sees him growing daily in confidence--and cruelty. The climactic confrontation with the surprising killer in the bowels of the prison is terrifying--not so the anticlimactic twist-ending, simply and needlessly sour. Occasional slack plotting and windy writing detract minimally from this extraordinarily atmospheric and powerful chiller: a most gritty--and gripping--big-house novel.