48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: A Spy by Nature (Paperback)
There are a lot of plaudits surrounding Charles Cumming at the moment, being hailed as the latest British spy novelist carrying forward the tradition shaped by greats such as Graham Greene, John le Carre and Len Deighton. In terms of a first spy novel, this is not of the calibre of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but there's enough promise in it to make you realise this is not your average thriller. Most writers of spy thrillers can be smart, clever and engaging (current examples such as Tom Bradby, Henry Porter), but few are able to really get to grips with the moral ambiguity of the world of espionage. As you read A Spy by Nature though, you can tell the difference. It reeks of moral ambiguity.
Much of it lies in the creation of the novel's anti-hero, Alec Milius. He is a fantastically flawed character; a man who is able to lie and talk his way out of any situation, amoral, and comfortable leading the double life of a spy. However, he is also greedy, ambitious, and is not good at telling himself to quit while he is ahead. Alec Milius has much in common with Patricia Highsmith's similar creation of Thomas Ripley - you get that same buzz reading Alec Milius trying to charm his way out of very sticky situations. As with Thomas Ripley, the trick Charles Cumming uses is to make Alec Milius normal enough that you relate to him. His frustrations are that of most young men; a feeling of unfulfilled potential, an ambition to do better, a certain brashness indicating a lack of maturity. It's very convincing. Without the flawed Alec Milius, this would be another run-of-the-mill thriller. Most spy thriller writers (excepting Greene, Le Carre and Deighton) make the mistake of making the main character un upstanding super-man, so thank goodness Charles Cumming resisted this.
I won't mention the plot in any detail, as other reviewers have already done this. There are some criticisms of this book by some of the other reviewers, some which are I think justified. The book does seem to come in two clear parts - the first part the MI6 recruitment, the second the MI5 industrial espionage shenanigans. The reviewer mentioning the ex-girlfriend as the blindingly obvious `Achilles heel' is also right - it's a little bit obvious, but somehow underplayed as well. I got the impression that Charles Cumming wasn't too sure how to finish the book.
But I think the plusses easily outweigh the minuses. And it's tantalising to read an author who truly understands that great spy fiction relies on moral ambiguity, not just a snappy plot to tell the story.
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Initial post: 17 Aug 2010, 15:46:59 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Aug 2010, 15:48:47 BST
Kindle Customer Pam Lee says:
It was quite a clear and engaging review which was not overly specific in details but I feel "A Spy By Nature" would be a good read. I must mention that I have read Charles Cumming's second book "The Hidden Man" and although one could find fault with it in some areas I myself thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was well paced and I found myself wanting to leave my chores and settle down to read it !
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