When he was 33, Harvard alumnus Alson was busted for bookmaking. His memoir is a diverting answer to the proverbial question: ""What's a nice boy like you doing in a place like this?"" Alson (a nephew of Norman Mailer's) was full of literary promise; his early Harvard stories were critically applauded. Later he spends a summer on the Cape trying to crank out a first novel. But he has writer's block. Unable to write, going nowhere in the relationship with his lover, Anna, and running out of money, Alson accepts a job offer from Michael, the son of a friend, who is making big bucks as a bookie and who is himself an alumnus of Brown. On Manhattan's St. Mark's Place, in a tenement apartment filled with cigarette butts and leftover takeout food, Alson enters the underworld. He learns about the odds, the ""line,"" the ""vigorish,"" the ""juice."" He spends his days writing thousands of dollars in bets; he is surrounded by wads of cash and touched by greed. Slowly, he bonds with his screwed-up fellows in crime, the ""boys at the office"": Bob, the Monkey, Steak Knife, Pat, Bernie, Eddie, Spanky. Even as he battles guilt and fear, he begins to bring new bettors to the business and begins to make money; he becomes one of the boys. He teaches Bob about Anna Karenina and seeks wisdom from ""frog-throated"" Monkey. From Morrie Krause (whose apartment the bookies rent), an unwashed man who makes periodic entrances like Seinfeld's Kramer, he accepts a friendly Christmas gift, a videotape called Anal Agony. When finally the police smash through the office door, Alson goes to jail and, hour by hour, describes why doing time for even a night is enough to bring him back to his writing. As they say around Alphabet City, it takes what it takes. A good story, simply told and often affecting.