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A Spy by Nature (Alec Milius #1)

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  1,017 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Alec Milius,arecent graduate of the London School of Economics,is young, smart,and a bit of a slacker, stuck in a shady job and suffering from a lack of direction.So, when an old family friend offers to put him up for a job in British Intelligence, Alec begins the rigorous selection process for SIS or MI6.Though he doesn't officiallymake the cut, he is funneled into a prim ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 11th 2008 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2001)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,685)
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Mal Warwick
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 ow
This is an ironic tale which asks the reader to believe a purportedly honest account by a perpetual liar. Alec Milius recounts his experience as a young man compelled to lie who ultimately ends up in an occupation that makes the most of this natural inclination. He’s bright but unformed, and while spying for a British oil company he sinks into a quagmire where everyone’s a liar and nothing is quite what he expected. Due to his naivete, he finds himself in more and more precarious circumstances u ...more
This novel follows Alec Milius, a young man of 24, through a period of three years. The book is divided into three parts, labelled simply 1995, 1996 and 1997. When we first meet Alec, he is stuck in a dead-end job, has lost his long-time girlfriend and is filled with a burning desire to make something more of himself. His fortunes seeem to take a complete 180 when an acquaintance of his mother recommends him for a job with MI6 or SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service. And this is the true beginni ...more
Michael Layne
I had mixed feelings about this novel as I found it difficult to read quickly. I just couldn't get into a rhythm with the story. The characters were OK. The plot was OK. But the language was..something. Eloquent? Beautiful? Not sure what the correct word is to describe it. After a few chapters, after getting over the fact that I couldn't rip through the book, I started to become very impressed that the language was ensnaring me, not allowing me to bludgeon through it. I started looking forward t ...more
The Dumbest Spy in the World

Cummings, C. (2001). A Spy By Nature. New York: St. Martins

The protagonist is a recent college graduate in London who works in a dead end telemarketing job and feels his life drifting. He applies for a job as a spy and apparently does well in the application, but is ultimately rejected without explanation. Or is he really? A retired MI5 acquaintance mysteriously invites him to join his international oil firm as a clerk, with a covert mission to spy on a competing Amer
A Spy by Nature (2001) tells the story of Alec Milius, a young college graduate working at a dead-end job for a small London company selling ads to Central and Eastern European businesses. When Alex is recruited by British intelligence (MI-6) he is sure his life has finally turned around. But MI-6 rejects him. Alec is then offered an assignment as a support agent with a British oil company, tasked with selling false information to American agents working for an American oil company. Loosely base ...more
Alec Milius is a 20-something graduate of the London School of Economics, living in Shepherd's Bush and coasting along with no real goals, marking time at a dead end job when he's recruited by MI6 and offered the chance to make something of his life. What happens next seems like it will be the story of the classic naif who steps into something much bigger than he can ever imagine. But Milius is more cynical, and perhaps more self-deluded than the reader at first believes. And the story's traject ...more
David Hull
My introductory Charles Cumming's first 'spy thriller' novel concerned me a little that I just might be wasting my money. Au contraire! I found the writing style refreshingly conversational - a very clear, albeit rather detailed - account, as though the writer Cumming (as the protagonist, Alec Milius) were leading the reader, as something of a confidant, through a timeline in his professional 'spying' career, albeit with more spying than thrilling. Good story line, entertaining, engaging and com ...more
I almost never re-read a book, but as I have acquired the rest of the series, I thought I needed to go back to the start. I enjoyed this 9 years ago and I enjoyed it again. I will need to rad "The Spanish Game" soon, because I cannot imagine how our hero (?) Alec Milius can begin to rehabilitate himself after this one. Like any good spy book, there are echoes of Le Carre, but that is no bad thing. Taut plotting and crisp dialogue make this an excellent read.
Great spy book illustrating how espionage has moved in to the industrial sector since the cold war. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the clever story line, he flawed characters and the general setting in London all lent themselves to my imagination.

Cummings really is the only author that has emulated Le Carre in the true sense of the word in recent years. Go out buy this book and settle down for a good read.
Mickey Hoffman
I read this book after two of the author's other books. Had I read this one first, I wouldn't have read another. It's not often I get to the end of a book and want to scream, but this book has an ending that makes no sense to me. In addition, the main character is completely unlikeable.
Set during the run up to Blair's election as Prime Minister this was a fairly tepid espionage thriller. The plot just did not do a lot for me and the main character annoyed. Listened to the audio version read by Simon Vance who was the best part of the whole endeavor.
Jane Branson
An enjoyable thriller. I found the main character intriguing. His obvious unreliability didn't seem to translate into real drama that the reader could get worked up about it, and the only two characters he really cared about never quite made off the page so it was hard to care too much when things went awry for them. This novel also suffered from an unsatisfactory resolution, in my view. This dilemma besets all good thrillers: how to tie up all the threads that have kept you hooked, without a co ...more
Jo Reason
I was looking forward to this one as I enjoy a good spy book, but there is something missing in this. So far it just plods along, and there are parts where it seems like chit lit, and after having read the bio of the author Charles Cumming it could even be a bit of an autobiography. Unfortunately things take way to long to get going, and fortunately, I seem to have plenty of patience as it was a very quick read or I would have given up reading. After the 200 pages or so, it does get a little bet ...more
Max Everhart
The layered characterization of the protagonist is what makes this book worth reading. This isn't a James Bond type spy book. If you're looking for explosions and car chases and dalliances with beautiful, exotic women, you need to look elsewhere. However, if you want to know about the mental and psychological toll that being a spy--in this case, a double agent--takes on someone, then this is the book for you. I see a lot of parallels to be drawn from this novel and LeCarre's The Spy Who Came In ...more
2 things to say about Charles Cumming's first book:

1. The main character, Alec Milius, is almost impossible to sympathise with in the first of his two outings. Thankfully I read The Spanish Game first as this might have put me off. He is pompous, deceitful beyond belief, careless of other's feelings, quick to over-react, stupidly naïve in some situations and yet incredibly perceptive in others. Some might say this makes him a perfect spy. I think he's a bit of an arse.

2. All the above, stuck int
Sean Randall
I finished this and was all set to give it a three star, average but nothing brilliant rating. Milius is an arse. And yet there were two things that stuck in my mind worth writing about.

The first, and probably less flattering of them, is "You can't live life without turning it into a lie". Kate's harangue, objectively viewed (rather than filtered through Alec's indignity) seems a damn accurate assessment to me, which embarrassingly echoes incidents in my own history of which I am not proud. That
I think I'm gonna have to swim against the tide here. Or at least against the tide of (what are quite possibly reviews for the hardback version) reviews on the cover and inside of my paperback.

Far from "Eerily good" or "wonderfully assured, tautly written, cleverly plotted", I found this really struggling to make 'so-so'. For me, as well as The Kinks, it's 'a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook up' mess.

It starts out alright, with the main man Alec Milius being recommended for a job with the Intelligenc
Gerald Sinstadt
There is a form of exercise for those of us not in middle youth that entails stretches of jogging interspersed by bouts of recuperative walking. Charles Cumming's first novel has something of that about it. The early pages concern the recruitment process for Britain's Secret Intelligence Services. Alec Milius, the would-be spy, is required to take part in a mock political discussion. Here the book treads water for pages before events conspire to project the pallid Milius forward to the next phas ...more
Apr 07, 2010 Shannon rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shannon by: Jason Truss
A Spy By Nature was like a cross between The Bourne Identity and Then We Came to the End. In other words, a mix of life in the business world and modern day espionage. The main character is Alec Milius, a recent university graduate whose life is going nowhere fast. He is, like many twenty-somethings, stuck in a dead end job and plagued by a niggling fear that he is doing nothing with his life. So when a guest at a dinner party offers his an opportunity to interview for Britain's Secret Intellige ...more
Michael Martz
Spy by Nature was just OK.... writing was fine, section related to the vetting process for MI6 was interesting, but the rest was pretty predictable. The thing that bothered me the most about this book was the disparity between the supposed high intelligence level of the main character and the bone-headed mistakes and mis-steps he makes throughout the story.

I've read later Cumming novels and they're much better from a story standpoint.
Dan Tynan
This was my third Charles Cumming book, but the first he wrote -- which is probably why I was disappointed with it. I'd read (ok, listened to) Typhoon, which was terrific. Then the Trinity 6, which was good, but not as good as Typhoon. So going back to his first book is like watching a great cyclist back when he was still using training wheels.

The book is dull, frankly. It's very much a straight forward narrative with few twists and turns, and really, it's mostly a series of somewhat tedious co
He isn't le Carré's successor if this book is anything to go by. Characters are flat and irritating, but the story is a twist on the usual spy novel. I didn't enjoy the hysterics and melodrama and 'scene' with Kate, but it is easy to read and good to pass the time with. The writing is good and shows an eye for detail as London floats up from the pages, redeeming it somewhat.
It was OK. I read Cummings' latest (A Colder War) as a my first of his books and really liked it. So, I decided to start at the beginning of his writing career with this one. A Spy By Nature is a bit clunkier, plot-wise and I found it hard to get into a rhythm unlike A Colder War. It was, for the most part enjoyable and I'll certainly keep reading him especially knowing how good he can be.
A little disconnected, a lot too long, and kind of unkempt: a first novel, presumably unaided by much in the way of editorial guidance.

There are some unnerving developments that are promising but fail to float the novel; there is some good characterization that goes unsupported by the remainder of the 2-D cast. (Americans, for example, are blusteringly forthright and blunt. C'mon.)

Atmosphere is good but could certainly be more of a player. At its best this wants to be a kind of Human Factor, b
Claire Davis

I found this book to be a refreshing and original treatment of the genre. Well written, with a real sense of authenticity about how a young man can become involved in events that he thinks he can control;then career out of his depth. I look forward to reading much more from this author.
I wanted this to be really good. It wasn't. But it was good enough to give this author a chance. If I keep yelling at the book "why are you doing this or that" then I must be sucked in.
It was good enough to make me start the follow up "Spanish Game" right after. If you need a break from Brad Thor, start here.
ok, so not all spies are James Bond! This we find out very soon where it concerns Alec Milius "The Spy" & the lead in via testing & processing is a grand way for the genre to evolve. The psychology of constant deceit, duplicitous & betrayal & it's oppressiveness on his somewhat flawed character makes for a decent read behind the evolving plot & for that side of it it's a 4 star read, however....... the last few chapters are somewhat of a disappointment as it all gets a tad ri ...more
Matthew Hurst
In the Deighton/Le Carre lineage, this is a spy novel where people make cups of tea, worry about their finances and hardly ever kill anyone. They lie a lot, to each other and to themselves, and make seedy subtle betrayals. Far, far more engaging than the David Balderdash genre of spy thrillers.
Tuesday's Child
I thought the writing was solid, but I found I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half. Generally, I like the spy genre and found this book contributed well to that genre. If you like spy books, it is worth trying this one.
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Charles Cumming is British writer of spy fiction. His international bestselling thrillers including A Spy By Nature, The Spanish Game, Typhoon and The Trinity Six. A former British Secret Service recruit, he is a contributing editor of The Week magazine and lives in London.
More about Charles Cumming...

Other Books in the Series

Alec Milius (2 books)
  • The Spanish Game
The Trinity Six A Foreign Country The Spanish Game Typhoon A Colder War

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