If the term ""needlepoint"" only evokes the image of a useful, decorative activity for nervous fingers, then a glance into this novel may prove to be at least instructive. It is, however, every bit as melodramatic as its title would lead you to expect. The ""needlepointers"" here are the men, women and children laboring sixteen hours a day in the 19th century mills of England's Midlands. Drygrinding the steel, tempering by hammer, the children cutting the grooves, the needlepointers are another example of the brutality and degradation of early industrialization. Threaded through the sociology is the story of Jethro Stanton, son of a Luddite agitator, whose passage into manhood takes him from mills to markets to construction sites, through romantic adventures and sundry other battles-unto-death. There is much made, for example, of the entertainments of the day--the bare-knuckle prizefight, bull-baiting (akin to the cockfight but on a far grander scale). Jethro, too, receives his scars and is last seen taking up his father's work. The novel has its absorbing moments but the lines between the good and the evil, the coarse and the sensitive are too broad to be convincing. Clews is more successful at making a point than in fashioning a fiction.