BookBrowse Reviews A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Spy by Nature

A Novel

by Charles Cumming

A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming X
A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2007, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2008, 368 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Tautly written, cleverly plotted, and with a real sense of moral anger at the cruelties and duplicities of modern espionage

A Spy By Nature, Charles Cumming's first novel, has drawn comparisons to Len Deighton and the early works of John le Carré. If we must make comparison to Le Carré, and when reviewing spy novels it seems de rigueur to do so, it would not be to the early Smiley novels but to Le Carré's more recent works such as Absolute Friends, set in the post Cold-War period when the lines between state-sponsored and private sector intelligence have blurred.

We first meet Alec Milius in a dead-end job selling advertising space in the Central European Business Review, a publication of dubious reputation*. Through a chance contact he is invited to apply to the Secret Intelligent Service (SIS). Having gone through the rigorous selection process he is placed in a covert position as a support agent inside a British oil company with contracts in Eastern Europe.

At first Alec relishes his secret life but as time goes by the elaborate deceits and double crossing become exhausting and he finds the weight of lies brought on by living a false life increasingly burdensome. His life is not remotely glamorous and what he is fighting for is not the freedom of the Western world but whether a company's stock price will rise or fall by a few dollars or pounds.

As a character, Alec is difficult to like. He feels that he has drawn the short straw in life but has never quite got his act together to do much about it; occasionally, his actions border on the idiotic (but who are we to say how another would react under stress); and he is so lacking in personal charm that readers who prefer to spend their time with protagonists that they like might want to look elsewhere. However, putting aside the protagonist's character faults, this is a well-researched first book (see sidebar for more on this) with a surprisingly exciting and unexpected ending, which illuminates the decidedly unglamorous world of industrial espionage.

Interesting to note: The inevitable question asked of most first novels is how much of it is autobiographical? It is clear that Milius's recruitment experience is based on Cumming's own, but what about his character? This reviewer would hazard a guess that Cumming and Milius have little in common on the basis of one small but interesting detail - Charles Cumming's website is the only one I can recollect visiting where less than positive book reviews share equal space with the glowing ones, which would appear to indicate a certain openness on the author's part - not a character trait shared by Alec Milius!

*The fictitious Central European Business Review claims to publish extensively across Europe but actually publishes only a handful of copies which are sent to advertisers and a few other key contacts. Scams similar to this are all too frequent, although usually on a more local scale. For example, a local business is persuaded to buy advertising in a calendar that will be sent to all residents and businesses in their area. The price seems reasonable and the target market is spot on, so it seems a good deal. However, in cases where the publisher is dishonest, the print run is likely to be a fraction of what is claimed - just enough to provide copies to the business that have advertised and a few select residences/businesses in their immediate vicinity. The moral of the story - always verify the claimed circulation!

This review is from the August 9, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Overstory
    The Overstory
    by Richard Powers
    Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, ...
  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

    A riveting story of survival, and the power of stories to save us.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.