good reading: A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming

A Spy by Nature, Charles Cumming’s first novel, is the semi-autobiographical precursor several subsequent espionage stories that have caught the attention of reviewers and the reading public alike. The Trinity Six, the most recent, was a deft and ingenious reimagining of the familiar story of the five aristocratic Cambridge graduates whose greatest fame came when they defected to the Soviet Union after many years of undercover work in Britain.

In A Spy by Nature, Cumming tells a version of his own story as a recruit to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). His protagonist, Alec Milius, is a 24-year-old underperformer in London who devotes three months to testing and interviews preparatory to joining MI6, only to be rejected. The consolation prize is a job as a “support agent,” a species of contractor, who is placed in a British oil company with the assignment to infiltrate its American competitor and feed it disinformation.

A Spy by Nature by Charles Cumming (2007) 370 pages ★★★★☆

As Alec’s story unfolds, he finds himself more and more deeply enmeshed in a web of distrust and betrayal that brings out the worst in him — and generates tragic consequences. Cumming’s portrayal of his alter ego is utterly convincing, and the story brings to light an increasingly important aspect of latter-day espionage in the post-Cold War Era: industrial espionage.

A Spy by Nature is an entirely worthy antecedent of Cumming’s later, more fully realized spy stories.

For further reading

This is just one of Charles Cumming’s first-rate spy thrillers. And the author is one of The best spy novelists writing today.

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