I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (Emily Bestler Books, May 27th, 2014)-Scott Murdoch (Pilgrim) was once part of the clandestine intelligence organization known only as The Division. A man without a past, or a name, he constantly remade himself for the sake of his job. Eventually he leaves The Division, but his cover is blown by a a particularly tenacious New York cop, Ben Bradley, that managed to track him down after reading his obscure book on criminal investigation, a book that managed to bring him out of one of the most painful and difficult time of his life. Scott is shocked that Ben managed to find him, but can’t help growing fond of Ben and his loving wife, Marcie. It’s from this that a friendship is born, and it’s something that, before now, he’s never really known. Now Ben has called him out to a seedy hotel room where a young woman is found dead in a tub full of industrial antiseptic, all evidence of her identity taken from her. Moreover, the killer’s methods seem to come directly from Scott’s book. This is just the beginning though. There’s a diabolical terrorist on the loose, known only as the Saracen. Born of tragedy, the Saracen is a man on a deadly mission to turn the U.S. into hell, and he’s got the tools, the training, and the brains to do it, but Scott Murdoch is just as talented, and he’s been brought back into the fold to find the Saracen and, ultimately, stop him.
The Saracen’s terrible plot takes Pilgrim into a picturesque, sleepy town in Turkey and beyond, his cover made possible by the murder of a prominent billionaire, and it’s there that he finds out that so many more things were in play than he first thought and he’ll have to be at the top of his game to find a man unlike any he’s ever hunted. I Am Pilgrim is narrated by Pilgrim himself and in addition to his quest, we’re given quite a bit of insight into what drives the Saracen in his own dark mission. It’s an odd feeling to want the Saracen to be caught, and even punished, but also to feel compassion at the events that brought him to this point, yet I did. Hayes gives us a peek of the (very human) man behind the monster, when so many thrillers just give us monsters.
Hayes’s narrative style kept me enthralled, switching it up just when it gets to critical points, but giving clever clues as to what will follow, and his scope is cinematic, which is understandable given the author’s extensive work in film. The Saracen’s plot is chilling, and no detail is spared in how he carries out his astonishing plan, and is a very dark testament to one man’s patience and brilliance, as well as the extent of his hate and need for vengeance. There are many, many threads in this tapestry, but Hayes picks them up throughout and weaves them together with a sure and expert hand. Pilgrim’s journey isn’t a short one, but there wasn’t one minute of it that felt like filler. Everything is important, and nothing can be taken for granted. Pilgrim is very easy to root for, and relate to. His humanity in the face of such odds is inspiring, even as he has to stretch the limits of what he’s willing to do to save so many lives. There’s really nothing predictable about this book, and it’s a superb standout in a very crowded genre. This book made me remember why I love good thrillers so much, and if you think the journey leading up to the climax is harrowing enough, the final scene is more than worthy of that journey. It’s terrifying, heart rending, and terrific. Terry Hayes can’t write his next book fast enough. I Am Pilgrim is an assured, very intelligent debut, and you never get the sense that the author thinks you, the reader, can’t keep up. He counts on it, and proceeds accordingly. Fans of Nelson DeMille’s work (like me), will especially find much to love about this book. What a ride!