I am a big fan of mysteries. I even like a good suspense thriller – you know, the kind where it seems like an old English manor house is haunted but you find out in the last few pages that it isn’t, but that it was only the lord of the manor’s crazy wife locked in the attic.
But the one kind of mystery/thriller that I avoid like the Black Plague is one in which the book’s synopsis includes the phrase American intelligence operative. They scare me too much. I find them to almost always be confusing and unrealistic. Jack Reacher? Nope. Mitch Rapp? No, thank you. Scott Horvath? I’d rather not.
But as I perused books last year, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes kept coming up. One reviewer called the book “unputdownable.” Wow. That is compelling praise.
So I bought the book for Bill because he is a big fan of Jack Reacher, Mitch Rapp, and Scott Horvath. Big. Fan.
He devoured the book and gave it high praise. Five out of five.
So I finally acquiesced and read the book.
With apologies to the reviewer from Booklist, it was indeed unputdownable. It was also unsleepable-at-night-after-you’ve-read-itable.
I Am Pilgrim is a murder mystery wrapped in an issue of national security. Connected but not the same. Having two stories in one book makes for good reading.
Pilgrim, who has answered to a number of names in his life and job, was an American operative who worked for an intelligence agency that oversees the CIA – sort of follows up and “handles” errors they may have made. He has retired, but, in helping the NYC police as sort of a hobby, he stumbles into what appears to be a simple murder mystery. It becomes clear to Pilgrim quickly, however, that the murderer was extraordinarily thorough. What’s more, the killer clearly followed the rules as written by Pilgrim himself in a book he published about criminal investigations after he retired.
At the same time, we meet a young Saudi Muslim who watches his father get beheaded because of perceived disloyalty to the Saudi royalty. He vows to destroy the United States because of what he sees as its allegiance to Saudi Arabia, and has devised an almost perfect plan with which to accomplish his goal.
The story plays out slowly, and Hayes leads the reader to nerve-wracking suspension. The author, a screenwriter by profession, tells the story of these two men in a back-and-forth style, and the reader sits at the edge of his or her seat and watches the horror unfold. It is up to Pilgrim to save the nation. And it is a race to the finish.
You hear talk about books that you simply can’t put down. I Am Pilgrim was a book I couldn’t put down. Despite its length (over 600 pages), the chapters were short and I just kept thinking “I have to know what happens next.”
As I read the reviews once I had finished the book, I was amused to read one viewer’s complaint that Hayes’ “science” was unreliable. Thank God for that, I thought to myself. Otherwise it would be an instruction manual for destroying the world.
I Am Pilgrim is definitely not for everyone. But I must admit I found it an absorbing story, and I am eagerly awaiting Hayes’ next novel.
Buy I Am Pilgrim from Amazon here.
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Buy I Am Pilgrim from Changing Hands here.