Cross-bred Anglo-Indians--who were left in India after independence with the unwieldy manners and presumptions of the ""Brits"" as well as the not-quite-whiteness of the natives--provide the society in which Alter's first novel easily moves. After getting a Hindu girl in trouble (and catching hell from her brothers), 20-year-old Anglo-Indian Lionel is sent north from Lucknow to the isolated hill town of Debrakot--to his parents' close friends the Augdens, Brigadier Teddy and wife Natalie, now both in their sixties and the owners of some apple orchards which Lionel will manage until the heat diminishes down in Lucknow. Debrakot hasn't much current social life to offer, just the insularity of the Anglo-Indian community (it's possible that Brigadier Teddy is Lionel's real father; mate-swapping seems to have been not all that uncommon a party game in the past). But Debrakot also boasts flora and fauna of almost monstrous variety and intensity--and, of course, the crinkling memories of ""neglected lives."" When it comes to painting natural and unnatural exotica, Alter reminds one, in his adroitness, of the early Paul Bowles; there's a scene involving a derelict recluse named Farleigh--who cultivates and hosts a pondful of leeches he considers his ""pets""--that is memorably creepy-crawly and strange. But Alter's attempt to use an insistent mood to straddle a basically powerless and familiar growing-up story doesn't really blossom: the book finally seems scattered. Effective--etchingly so--in spots, fuzzy in too many others.