Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim
Author:  Terry Hayes
Publisher:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books, May 27, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 624 pages
List Price:  $26.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781439177723 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist, in a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest.

PILGRIM is the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent. His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen barely sees his dissident father beheaded in a Saudi Arabian public square. But the event marks him for life and creates a burning desire to destroy the special relationship between the US and the Kingdom. Everything in the Saracen’s life from this moment forward will be in service to jihad.

At the novel’s opening, we find ourselves in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero. A woman lies face down in a pool of acid, features melted off her face, teeth missing, fingerprints gone. The room has been sprayed down with DNA-eradicating antiseptic spray. All the techniques are pulled directly from Pilgrim's book, a cult classic of forensic science written under a pen name.

In offering the NYPD some casual assistance with the case, Pilgrim gets pulled back into the intelligence underground. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting. The author shifts effortlessly from Pilgrim’s hidden life of leisure in Paris to the Saracen’s squalid warrior life in Afghanistan, from the hallways of an exclusive Swiss bank to the laboratories of a nefarious biotech facility in Syria.

The inevitable encounter between Pilgrim and the Saracen will come in Turkey, around the murder of a wealthy American, in a thrilling, twisting, beautifully orchestrated finale. 

Qwill's Thoughts

I Am Pilgrim is a deeply engaging thriller by Terry Hayes. It's filled with everything I love about thrillers - great characters, a frightening scenario, the slow and unrelenting build of suspense, and a deeply layered story.

Pilgrim is brilliant but so is Saracen, the person he is trying to track down to avoid a disaster of epic proportions. Watching Pilgrim's mind work is a real joy. He's clever and inventive. He is the first to admit to his shortcomings. He does make mistakes. He's not omniscient, but when it comes to investigating he has no peer.  He puts things together is ways that are remarkable yet explainable (and are explained). This adds a great deal of depth and veracity to the novel. We get to see how Pilgrim thinks. He also works hard. He hunts down clues. He's a man of action when necessary.

The Saracen is also very intelligent. His life history is slowly shown to the reader throughout the novel. The reader is privy to why he's become single-minded in his quest to bring down the United States. The Saracen is very, very patient. He is one man, more or less off the grid, planning unimaginable destruction. The plan he eventually concocts appears frighteningly real which heightens the intensity of the novel.

In addition to trying to stop the Saracen, Pilgrim is also figuring out a couple of murders that are unrelated to the Saracen plot. I enjoyed this part of the story as well because it gave me additional opportunities to see Pilgrim in action and see how his mind works.

I Am Pilgrim is a beautifully written novel with excellent pacing, wonderful twists and turns and plenty of action. The story not only switches back and forth between Pilgrim and Saracen, but there are flashbacks to Pilgrim's past. The reader gets to learn quite a bit about Pilgrim's life and who he is. Hayes handles this back and forth and the shifting story lines skillfully. There is a very strong cast of well-developed supporting characters who help or hinder Pilgrim in various ways.

I Am Pilgrim is a nail-biter. Even after 600+ pages I was disappointed that the novel ended. I wanted keep reading about Pilgrim and to be in his mind a bit more. If you enjoy well-crafted, exciting espionage thrillers this is an absolute must read.

Look for an interview with Terry Hayes and giveaway of I Am Pilgrim on May 27th.


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