A melodramatic but satisfying by-the-numbers debut thriller pits a brooding, middle-aged New York prison warden on the trail of an escaped murderer. Freelancer Zandri, who had planned at first on writing a nonfiction book about a real-life prison warden, offers instead this fictionalized treatment that turns prison blues trenchcoat gray. The conveniently widowed, whiskey-guzzling Jack ""Keeper"" Marconi, who would otherwise while away the hours pushing paper in his shabby office at Green Haven Prison, a maximum security facility near Albany, leaves his office to crack a conspiracy that helped cop-killer Eduard Vasquez flee Marconi's collar. Soon Marconi is dodging bullets, consorting with fast women, and mixing himself up in a scam that exposes him to a frame-up for drug-smuggling. All of that--plus conniving TV news reporter Cassandra Wolf; a sordid amateur porn video; quietly lethal mafiosi; and shady political maneuvering by Marconi's boss, Washington Pelton--would be enough to sustain five thrillers. Even so, Zandri's pile-driver plotting, indulgence in gratuitously gross accounts of prison lite, and fondness for whiz-bang prose (a sports utility vehicle moves ""like a bullet shot out of the twilight"") wear thin. He cleverly uses the 1971 Attica prison riots as a trial by fire for Marconi and others who inhabit a balefully hypocritical world that can erupt instantly. Justice, as Marconi inevitably administers it, is not so much a payback for violations of civil order but, rather, an attempt to heal wounds. Overwrought, but redeemed by a lonely hero with an unusual perspective on human depravity.