I Spy With My Little Eye
By Sayer Paige
Spy: a person who secretly collects and reports information on the activities, movements, and plans of an enemy or competitor. If only these tasks were simple. Although this definition is accurate, it fails to mention how secretly collecting information can bring about immediate danger. Growing up, I always thought that being a spy would be so cool. Now, I think differently. Movies like “Spy Kids” create an image that could simply not be farther off. It is not all fun and games in the life of a spy.
A Spy by Nature, by Charles Cumming features a young man, Alec Milius, who is struggling to find a way to define himself. Somehow being a spy seems to fit. Milius is working a dead end job when a chance encounter leads to the possibility of a job at MI6, the British Intelligence Service. Though he fails to get the original job, through the interview process Alec is funneled into a position at a British oil company with interests around the Caspian Sea. He is soon ordered to befriend Fortner Grice, and his wife, Katharine Simms, employees of a rival American Oil enterprise. It is unclear who is friend or foe. Milius is trapped in a life of secrets, where the simplest slip up can end his life. Manipulated by the CIA and MI6, Alec Milius’ life has turned upside down.
Through the first 150 pages or so, Cumming sets up the plot line of the book. Though this may seem like a long time to set the scene, Cumming’s attention to detail allows the reader to stay attached to the story. “Pyman’s eyes are like black holes, as if they have seen so much that is abject and contemptible in human nature that they have simply withdrawn into their sockets.” As the book continues Cumming does a great job explaining the perils of his protagonist’s life. Cumming allows us to see why being a spy can not only kill you physically, but mentally as well. Cumming shows us why the hard part of being a spy isn’t having to deal with everyone else, but rather having to deal with yourself. As Alec Milius struggles with both the CIA and MI6, he realizes that his life is becoming one big lie.
Charles Cumming presents his character in a fashion that makes him somewhat unlikeable to the reader. Throughout the story, Alec Milius seems to continually lie to others, and sometimes does so for no reason. Though this may annoy some readers, this approach also gives the reader the impression that this protagonist is a true spy. Cumming treats us in such a way that we are blindfolded from his main character’s real intentions. Cumming’s unique style puts the reader in the same situation as the people in the book. All of us wonder what Milius is up to.
Cumming’s first novel, A Spy by Nature, may not be action-packed, but it gives us a truer sense of the life of a spy. Cumming shows us why a spy novel doesn’t have to be all “Tom Cruisey” to be interesting.