During the '80's building boom in New York, Billy Adare is a tunneler (a sandhog) in the day while he attends school at night. His brother, Paddy, is an enforcer, working for Jack Tierney, who runs the construction racket in the West Side of New York.
In this plot driven novel, we learn of the sandhogs, who, at that time, are mostly Irish. The mob is attempting to control the union. They want to replace the Irish with newly immigrated Poles, pay less and keep the difference.
When one union rep is beaten to death by Tierney's crazed brother, Butcher Boy, Billy's friends ask him to check with Paddy to see if he knows who is strong arming them.
Billy is in the middle of supporting his friends and fellow sandhogs and bettering his future by attending law school.
The author does a good job in describing the violence and ease in which life is taken by mob enforcers. The reader wonders how all of this happened with such little publicity. Being said, there is sadness for these brave sandhogs who want nothing more than to make a living and support their families.
Billy Adare is well described and is a character who shows that there is promise from the endless repetition of going down into the tunnels. He reaches for better things and the novel seems to say that with the right circumstances and hard work, this can be achieved.
The picture of New York, at that time, with the building boom and the rush to riches, is well done and brings the reader in. The author also brings in the view of the wealthy toward the working men when we see a girl that Billy was dating and the reactions of her family and friends toward her apparent lowering herself to date a man who earned a living with his hands.