By Paul Katz
Updated September 07, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Charles Cumming’s debut novel, A Spy by Nature, makes a pulsating thriller out of the recruitment of a low-level spy sans gadgets, super-villains or smooth moves. Alec Milius, a bored twenty-something leaps at the chance to join the covert British unit MI-6. Tasked with unmasking agents acting against U.K. oil interests, Alec slowly crumples under a life of subterfuge and desperately searches for a way out, with deadly results. Based on his own recruitment experience with British intelligence, the author transforms the mundane — transmitting a fax, playing tennis, attending a dinner party — into tension-packed scenarios. Nature gives spy fans an intriguing glimpse of a newbie Bond — minus the license to kill. B+