Bird Watching

When American ornithologist Guy Fletcher stumbles upon a dead body near Chanakyapuri, New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave, he does not realize that his life is about to change drastically. Soon, he is recruited into the CIA and sent straight into the heart of a secret war raging in the Himalaya. Alongside him are his two unlikely partners—the enigmatic Captain Imtiaz Afridi of the Indian Military Intelligence, whom he meets on a hunting trip in Kashmir, and the mysterious but alluring Kesang Sherpa, who saunters into his world in Kalimpong. Their missions and emotions inextricably entwined, the three must learn to trust their own instincts, and one another, to uncover what lies beneath the dazzling Himalayan snow. Set against the backdrop of the Sino–Indian war of 1962, Birdwatching is a gripping tale of high intrigue and mystery.


An unusual thriller, slow-paced like the art of watching birds, and as rewarding.

Ranjana Sengupta, The Hindu

Birdwatching is a taut, gripping story, but the birds really take it to another level. For anybody who is even slightly interested in (especially Indian) avifauna, this one’s a must-read, even just for that: for the obvious love of birds that comes through so loud and clear.

Madhulika Liddle, The Indian Express

In the midst of the threat of a thermo-nuclear war clouding the horizon, it seems almost futile to suggest that out there on the forested slopes of the Himalayas there are birds foraging for their future. Yet such is the compelling power of Stephen Alter’s latest invocation of the past in his tangentially named Birdwatching that you are inextricably drawn into his web of stories. Let us admit that he belongs to the John Masters tribe of storytellers, but with a Harrison Ford type of mediation and derring-do to venture forth in situations where others have dared and failed…

What makes Stephen Alter’s account so riveting is the way he includes real-life events and describes the social setting with an eye to detail. We might know the eventual outcome but he still keeps us turning the page. There are brilliant vignettes of Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1962 visit to Delhi, of being courted by Pandit Nehru; of Hope Cook, the American ingenue, imitating Jackie’s whispery voice and white gloved hands marrying the Prince of Sikkim in 1963. Set against the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961, Alter then fast forwards the events of Birdwatching to coincide with the Sino-India war of November 1962. And when all else fails, there is birdsong and the splendour of the snows of Kanchenjunga.

Geeta Doctor, India Today