Review: I Am Pilgrim

Posted 20 May, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

I Am Pilgrim
By: Terry Hayes
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of Simon and Schuster CA

An intelligent and taut debut thriller that depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist.

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. Pilgrim, the code name for a legendary, world-class secret agent, quickly realizes that all of the murderer’s techniques were pulled directly from his own 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. Meanwhile, his adversary—a man simply known as “the Arab”—is plotting his next move in service to jihad. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting. It takes us from Pilgrim’s hidden life of leisure in Paris to the Arab’s squalid warrior life in Afghanistan, from the hallways of an exclusive Swiss bank to the laboratories of a nefarious biotech facility in Syria. Secrets are exposed and tension builds until Pilgrim and the Arab arrive in Turkey—where the two masterminds inevitably meet to face off in the shocking finale.

How intense does this premise sound? It caught my attention when I first heard of it so naturally I wanted to read it! It was also encouraging that I heard good things about this book 😉 I kindly received an ARC of this novel courtesy of the publishers in exchange for an honest review; this review is also part of a book blog tour hosted by the publishers.

Before I continue on to my review, for those of you who are from Toronto, there is an event coming up featuring Terry Hayes at TIFF. More details about this event and how to attend can be found on this Facebook page 🙂

I Am Pilgrim is a complex suspense involving numerous characters, different locations, action and ideology. The person known as Pilgrim is slowly drawn back into the world of espionage and intrigue when it comes to the attention of the West that there is a nefarious attack being planned. It’s a puzzle as at first all of the elements involved in the plot seemed scattered, and the reader is not sure how everything will connect. Come parts two, three, and four however, things begin to make sense and come together, and Pilgrim finds himself in a race to stop the plan from taking off.

The gradual burn of the suspense and the confrontation between Pilgrim and the Saracen was interesting and very reminiscent of Ludlum’s Bourne novels. I appreciate how the premise of the novel is based on current events and modern-day concerns (the situation in the Middle East, the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the issue of chemical warfare, etc.). Both Pilgrim and the Saracen are intelligent and well-trained men with their own internal conflicts, motivations and back stories that are wholly fleshed out.

It did however take me a while to get into the book. The first few chapters of part one (re: the murder in New York City) was interesting and eerie but then the narrative goes back and forth, explaining how the Pilgrim ended up in the profession he was in and the rest of his backstory. It had me confused for a while until it connected back to the present day storyline. Additionally the narrative felt a little clunky at times; there was a lot more “tell” rather than “show”, which bogged down the prose with too much detail. Thankfully the pace picked up midway in the novel, which either accustomed me to the writing style or I just forgot about it altogether later on.

Overall I Am Pilgrim is an interesting suspense with plenty of locations, turns, real-time issues and a ticking clock to boot. While the writing left me trudging a bit through the book, I think this story would make a very impressive and heart-stopping film. Fans of espionage novels and thrillers may want to check out this novel.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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