Excerpt from A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Spy by Nature

A Novel

by Charles Cumming

A Spy by Nature
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2007, 368 pages
    Nov 2008, 368 pages

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Print Excerpt

She sounded impressed.

“Who said that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Anyway, Michael says to give him a ring if you’re interested. I’ve got the number. Fetch a pen.”

I tried to stop her. I didn’t like the idea of her putting shape on my life, but she was insistent.

“Not everyone gets a chance like this. You’re twenty-four now. You’ve only got that small amount of money your father left you in his Paris account. It’s time you started thinking about a career and stopped working for that crooked Pole.”

I argued with her a little more, just enough to convince myself that if I went ahead it would be of my own volition and not because of some parental arrangement. Then, two days later, I rang Hawkes.

It was shortly after nine o’clock in the morning. He answered after one ring, the voice crisp and alert.

“Michael. It’s Alec Milius.”


“About the conversation you had with my mother.”


“In the supermarket.”

“You want to go ahead?”

“If that’s possible. Yes.”

His manner was strangely abrupt. No friendly chat, no excess fat.

“I’ll talk to one of my colleagues. They’ll be in touch.”

“Good. Thanks.”

Three days later a letter arrived in a plain white envelope marked private and confidential.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

No. 46A———Terrace

London SW1


Dear Mr. Milius,

It has been suggested to me that you might be interested to have a discussion with us about fast-stream appointments in government service in the field of foreign affairs which occasionally arise in addition to those covered by the Open Competition to the Diplomatic Service. This office has a responsibility for recruitment to such appointments.

If you would like to take this possibility further, I should be grateful if you would please complete the enclosed form and return it to me. Provided that there is an appointment for which you appear potentially suitable, I shall then invite you to an exploratory conversation at this office. Your travel expenses will be refunded at the rate of a standard return rail fare plus tube fares.

I should stress that your acceptance of this invitation will not commit you in any way, nor will it affect your candidature for any government appointments for which you may apply or have applied.

As this letter is personal to you, I should be grateful if you could respect its confidentiality.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Lucas

Recruitment Liaison Office

Enclosed was a standard-issue, four-page application form: name and address, education, brief employment history, and so on. I completed it within twenty-four hours—replete with lies—and sent it back to Lucas. He replied by return post, inviting me to the meeting.

Copyright © 2001 by Charles Cumming. All rights reserved.

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