REVIEW: I AM PILGRIM BY TERRY HAYES

I AM PILGRIM

Author: Terry Hayes
Bantam Press RRP $24.95
Review: Monique Mulligan 

I Am Pilgrim, Terry HayesWith sudden clarity, I realize that this is anything but a by-the-book homicide for money or drugs or sexual gratification. As a murder, this is something remarkable.

Wow! What a blockbuster, cracker of a book! At 700+ pages, it’s a long book, but when a book keeps you enthralled like this one does, it’s over too fast. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes surprised me because when I read the last page, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to say goodbye to its intriguing narrator/protagonist Pilgrim just yet. Crime/thriller enthusiasts beware – you will be sucked in by this action-packed game of cat-and-mouse.

A baffling case draws the attention of a man who doesn’t exist.  The murder of a young woman in New York could have come from a textbook – found face down in a bath of acid, the woman’s features are erased, her teeth are missing and her fingerprints gone. Someone knew what they were doing. When the man, codenamed Pilgrim, discovers a book he wrote in the room – a definitive book on criminal forensic investigation – he is drawn into something far bigger than what it seems at the outset.

Pilgrim, once known as Scott Murdoch, adoptive son of a wealthy American family, once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Known then as the Rider of the Blue, he has been “retired” since writing his book. Living life off the grid in Paris, he never expected someone to track him down. Yet, that’s exactly what NYPD detective Ben Bradley did; using the book as a guide, he painstakingly worked out who the real author was and found Pilgrim. The discovery sets off a chain of events – Pilgrim wants to run, but first he must ensure his past is buried for good so no one can ever find him again. However, before he can disappear, he is drawn into the murder investigation; the challenging case spirals into a race against time to save the US from a deadly threat and potential oblivion, moving from New York to the Turkish coast. Who is the faceless man planning mass murder in the name of his God? Where did this man, the Saracen, come from? Is Pilgrim’s best enough to stop the Saracen from achieving his goal?

I am Pilgrim is a mash-up of espionage and crime thriller. To describe it as a heart-pounding, non-stop action novel sounds clichéd (very Hollywood), but that’s exactly what it is. Author Terry Hayes is a screenwriter, after all; he wrote the screenplays for Mad Max 2, Dead Calm (that movie freaked me out), Bangkok Hilton, Payback and From Hell. I doubt anyone who reads I am Pilgrim would be surprised to hear that film rights had been optioned. The book has a notably cinematic feel with pulsing action broken by gritty back story, all building to an intense climax – the pace doesn’t let up! It does make me wonder how the movie v book debate will fare if it comes to that. Will people say, “The book was better?”

Is the book too far-fetched to believe? Some people may find it so – you do have to suspend disbelief, just as you do with most action movies. The thing is, I was completely caught up in it, so I didn’t care – I usually laugh my way through James Bond movies, so it did surprise me that I enjoyed the book so much. The story is told from Pilgrim’s viewpoint and has a near-conversational tone, unlike the detached feel many thrillers have, which I’d say contributed to my desire to know what happened. The narrative could be described as unreliable – we’re only hearing Pilgrim’s version of things and he’s cagey at times about himself. Again, I didn’t mind. I just wanted to read on.

It’s not a perfect book. It is disjointed at times, with flashbacks interrupting the flow, and some parts are slower than others. Yet, despite those flaws, I didn’t once feel like walking away from it, not once. Instead, I was intrigued enough by the ambiguous (morally) storyline and the characters (some of whom are quite repugnant) to follow the story through. Interestingly, I also felt a degree of sympathy for the Saracen at the end, which I did not feel throughout most of the book – I’m keen to hear whether others also felt that.

Highly recommended for fans of Jason Bourne and James Bond, and anyone who loves a rollicking espionage/thriller. I hope we see more of Pilgrim … but please, can someone other than Tom Cruise play him in a movie?

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House Australia and NetGalley and was read as part of a blog tour.

Bookish treat: They say kebabs are a good late-night food. I’m inclined to agree, in this case.