On the cold January eve of Stanley Alpert's 38th birthday, three young and impressively armed thugs whisked him off a Greenwich Village street and into a menacing black Lexus. After stopping at an ATM to sample his bank account, the hoodlums drove the frightened U.S. attorney to a Brooklyn apartment, intending to relax there until the next day, when they planned to steal Alpert's stash of several thousand more dollars. If he didn't cooperate, they warned him, they would kill his father.

By this time, Alpert had been blindfolded and was alternating between feelings of terror and outrage. Even so, he managed to play it cool. He decided early on that he would remember every possible clue that might help him identify his abductors if he survived. Regularly, though, he assumed he wouldn't. Soon after their arrival at the apartment, the kidnappers Lucky, Sen and Ren were joined by their string of juvenile streetwalkers Mystic, Mercedes and Honey. Thus did the initially grim gathering take a decidedly festive turn. As the good times rolled, Alpert's captors became absolutely chummy, even offering him sexual favors when they discovered it was his birthday. It will not undercut the narrative of The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival to reveal that the author's imprisonment was, for all its horror, relatively brief or that he emerged from it reasonably intact. But the manner by which he and his captors separated has to be one of the strangest incidents in criminal history. Alpert divides the book into two parts: Mouse and Cat. His mutation from timid rodent to all-claws feline is marvelous to witness. He has hardly inhaled his first breath of freedom before he's flat-out on the chase to run down the villains and put them away.

In recounting his ordeal, Alpert deftly weaves in family history, reflections on close friends, concerns both professional and romantic, and the colors, smells and textures of New York City in 1998, when the event occurred. His wonderfully re-created dialogue reads like lines from a David Mamet play. While there is nothing here to make the reader feel the stomach-wrenching fear the author experienced, the accumulative richness of character fosters an identification that is far more moving and profound.

Edward Morris reviews from Nashville.

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