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Promising but deeply flawed.
on 9 June 2005
This young author's entry into the well-explored MI5 / SIS genre is enjoyable but unsatisfying. Protagonist Alec Milius stumbles into corporate espionage because it seems like an adventurous alternative to his going-nowhere-fast proto-adult life. The bulk of the book suspensefully describes his descent into an isolated world of lies. While I saw certain plot developments coming hundreds of pages before Alec did, I kept reading for the deftly portrayed characters and thrillingly claustrophobic atmosphere. Eventually, Alec's undiminished love for an ex-girlfriend ends up costing him everything. Cumming convincingly portrays Alec's lonely existence, complete with realistic details of tradecraft and minor characters. However, "A Spy By Nature" has major structural problems. It feels as if the author completely revised the plot about a hundred pages in. Those first hundred or so pages (before Alec gets involved in corporate espionage) introduce us at considerable length to Alec's fellow interviewees at MI5. All of them are fascinating characters, and all but one of them promptly vanish, never to be referred to again. The plot then takes off in a completely new direction. Another and more serious flaw is that Alec's ex-girlfriend, who involuntarily brings about his downfall, doesn't appear once until about page 400, when it's finally time for her to walk across the stage, holding up a sign that says "Hero's Achilles Heel," and vanish again. All in all, this book was readable thanks to its pacy prose and snappy dialogue, but Cumming needs to work on organizing his material.