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by Terry Hayes
Atria, May 2014
624 pages
ISBN: 1439177724

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Terry Hayes's I AM PILGRIM is subtitled "A Thriller." Perhaps a more accurate subtitle might have been THE thriller. Hayes has managed to create a book that is arguably the quintessential one of its genre. After whizzing through over 600 pages, the reader may feel that it will never be necessary to read another book of this kind. All the elements are here, and provided in a masterful way. Hayes has given us the super-hero with a laden history who wants out of the secret agent business but is called back in for one more critical assignment only he can accomplish. Our hero has done things in service to his country that still haunt him. He is a loner but is obsessed with the idea of love. He has been trained to kill and not to break under torture. The situation is desperate—the U.S. is in imminent danger of a fatal attack from an unknown source using an unidentified method. When smallpox is discovered to be the vector for this attack, the President himself asks our super-agent, whose code name is Pilgrim, to stop it. Pilgrim flies to Turkey and then to other Middle Eastern countries. He works under assumed names, at first pretending to be an FBI agent investigating the case of a wealthy American who has died under possibly suspicious circumstances. For diehard genre fans, Hayes even manages to throw in some connections to 9/11 and to Nazis.

I AM PILGRIM opens with a murder investigation in a sleazy NYC hotel room. The victim has been placed in a bath of sulphuric acid, erasing her identity. Police and a forensics team work the crime scene. Then a strange man enters and hangs back in the shadows. In a few minutes he has figured out information about the murder that the regular investigators have not even begun to notice. Then the scene shifts. When we finally return to that hotel room almost 200 pages later the reader now understands who the shadow person is, why he is there and how he can decipher a crime scene with such clarity.

Pilgrim has many adventures in various locations, but the author ties them together seamlessly. Each plot twist leads inevitably to the next. And there are no random characters. People we meet at the start and throughout become essential pieces of the narrative. As we read, the background of the perpetrator as well as some of Pilgrim's background is woven into the narrative. The person plotting against America has multiple identities and we know him only as Saracen. The pain of watching the Saudi rulers behead his father has led him to a plot that will bring down Saudi Arabia through its connection with America.

Some readers might not appreciate the book's ending, as it briefly leaves the realistic realm to introduce an idea that may be preparing us for a sequel. Aside from this caveat, I AM PILGRIM is a volume you might not want to begin reading during a week when you have any other plans. It is that good. It is that compelling.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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