Can you commit the perfect crime? Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation. But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book. What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.
I Am Pilgrim is without a doubt an extraordinary take on the contemporary thriller and running to 700 pages a remarkable interweaving of the lives of two men defined by the experiences of their formative years drawing them into a headlong collision in the defence of their personal affiliations. Opening with a baffling crime scene in New York, the plot expands into a race against time to thwart a devastating terrorist plot by a man known as Saracen, scarred as a boy by the execution of his father in Saudi Arabia who seeks to wreak revenge on the rulers of his native country by attacking its most stalwart of supporters- the United States of America. Pilgrim is the codename of the man dispatched to track and nullify Saracen, himself a man with a convoluted past comprising many identities whose pursuit of Saracen takes him on a terrifying journey across the world to stop this potential act of terrorism which could lead to mass murder…
Reflecting the author’s background as a screenwriter of many influential action films, the book relies heavily on the visual quality of the locations chosen, and the undying credo of the United States as the harbinger of justice and power in the fight against terrorism, so the ending is never really in doubt but it’s a hell of a journey on the way. As the book pivots between the personal stories of Pilgrim and Saracen, so begins a convoluted and at times totally engaging story of cat and mouse, as both men strive to fulfil their roles and we become immersed in to how they have become the men they are. As Saracen’s mission becomes clear and we learn more of the background of his pursuer Pilgrim, the depth and scope of Hayes characterisation of both is probably the strongest aspect of this book. As both men embark on differing pilgrimages in their lives, there is a clever blurring of their personal demarcation as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as Pilgrim and Saracen exhibit the qualities of both, and my empathies as a reader were waxing and waning between the two. Despite the painting of Saracen as a ‘baddie’, I actually found the unfolding of his personal history the most gripping of the two, but unfortunately towards the middle of the book, there is an imbalance and the weight of the story with the emphasis and drive of the narrative falls more on Pilgrim, with to my mind anyway, an opportunity to maybe have done a little more tightening up in terms of plotting. I actually found myself getting a little bored as events unfolded in Turkey in these middle sections, and wanted to get pulled back to Saracen’s skulduggery sooner. Likewise, the careful build-up to the final denouement is largely undone by the sheer incredulity of the ending, which oozed the potential incarnation of the book as Hollywood action film, and all the cliches thereof and to me bore little resemblance of how this should have played out. With this book’s evident position as a new take on the somewhat stale espionage thriller genre, I felt Hayes could have been a little braver in light of what had preceded this, and really shaken the reader up instead of relying on a truly stereotypical outcome. In the light of the sheer brilliance of some of the plot threads, the obvious depth of research he has implemented and the strength of the characterisation of both the two main characters and Pilgrim’s cohort, NYPD detective Ben Bradley whose personal story and his comeback from the depths of despair is deeply affecting within the main plot, I was disappointed that this fell at the final hurdle.
Judging by the enthusiasm for this book by other reviewers, there is no doubt that I Am Pilgrim is a unique, clever and at times enthralling thriller, that is defined by its difference in terms of superlative plotting and characterisation, to other practitioners in this genre. Despite my own observations on some of the weaknesses of this book- much of which could have been resolved by closer editing and a more credible ending- this is definitely worth reading if you enjoy an ambitious and intelligent espionage thriller with plenty of action and a truly international feel.
More reviews for I Am Pilgrim:
For Winter Nights http://forwinternights/
Bite The Book http://bitethebook.com
Terry Hayes is a former journalist and screen-writer. Born in Sussex, England, he migrated to Australia as a child and trained as a journalist at the country’s leading broadsheet. At twenty-one he was appointed North American correspondent, based in New York, and after two years returned to Sydney to become an investigative reporter, political correspondent and columnist. He resigned to produce a prominent current affairs radio program and a short time later, with George Miller, wrote the screenplay for Road Warrior/Mad Max 2. He also co-produced and wrote Dead Calm, the film which launched Nicole Kidman’s international movie career, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and a large number of TV movies and mini-series – including Bodyline and Bangkok Hilton – two of which received international Emmy nominations. In all, he has won over twenty film or television awards. After moving to Los Angeles he worked as a screen-writer on major studio productions. His credits include Payback with Mel Gibson, From Hell, starring Johnny Depp, and Vertical Limit with Chris O’Donnell. He has also done un-credited writing on a host of other movies including Reign of Fire, Cliffhanger and Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster. I Am Pilgrim is his first novel.
(With thanks to Bantam Press for the ARC)