It is simple. If you are a fan of spy novels or political thrillers, you need to read I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. If you are a fan of large books with multiple locations and intertwined character dynamics, you need to read I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Or if you are just a fan of well-written and exciting action-adventure tales, you need to read Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim.
Coming in at 624 pages, I Am Pilgrim is a doorstop of a novel, but because of Terry Hayes’ background in film work, the novel moves at such a quick clip that readers will hardly know that the hours spent reading have passed. Hayes rarely lingers in one location long enough for readers to grow bored and the visually descriptive language makes it easy for them to picture the scenes in their mind’s eye.
At its heart, I Am Pilgrim is a spy novel; but in a twist not typically seen in such testosterone heavy works, I Am Pilgrim is also a tale of a man finding his place in the world when he thinks that time has passed on and left him in the dust. In many ways, it follows the structure of those Victorian Bildungsroman novels you read in school: except instead of being the coming-of-age tale of an ingénue, readers are presented with the maturation of a government assassin.
The book starts with a perplexing murder. A woman’s body is found in a seedy motel and the corpse has been doused with acid to destroy all evidence. Further techniques were used to make identification of the victim impossible. It turns out that those techniques were taken right from the forensics handbook written by our main character – the man that will become Pilgrim. Because he feels responsible, he agrees to take on this new assignment. What he uncovers is a plot to cause massive harm to the American population.
What would a hero be without a villain upon whom to place his focus? What follows in the early sections of the novel are scenes that detail the birth of a terrorist (Saracen), as well as further clarification of the life events which created his “good guy” counter-part (Pilgrim). Hayes allows Pilgrim to tell his tale in first-person, while the chapters about Saracen are told in the third person. This technique allows readers to have an additional cue that perspective is shifting at various stages when reading this lengthy book.
While the main action of the novel only covers a short period of time, there are extensive flashbacks and side tales that create a canvas more epic in scope. While this is the tale of one terrorist, Hayes manages to include history about the Nazis and Al-Qaeda as readers travel around the world with his characters. For a look at some of the sample locations used in the novel, see my map of The Geography of I Am Pilgrim.
The best way to describe Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim is to say that it is like a Jack Higgins novel by way of John Le Carré with more than a dash of Charles Dickens. The only way to understand exactly what that means is to read the book.
_____________________________________________________________________ Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.
Finally, Kris, a book that I read before you 🙂 and can comment on.
Glad you liked it.
The big successes for me in the writing of such a lengthy book are, as you noted, the cracking pace without it feeling rushed, his ability to let the reader quickly grasp where you are in the fluid timeline and which character you are with, and the heightened visual detail that was beautifully descriptive without being overblown. It was also strangely spare in the writing, in that it didn’t feel at all ‘padded’ with reiteration or redundant detail etc. which seems often to be the case in many long books.
I also liked the way he salted information in in a subtle way that finally gave you the full jigsaw, and that he didn’t overtly spell all things out all the time, giving the reader credit for paying attention and having the nous follow the plot.
I know it took Terry Hayes many years to write, while working on other projects, but I do hope he has another underway, as he is definitely on my BOLO list.
YEA. So happy to see you are here Ann, commenting on a book that I know you enjoyed. I hope to meet Terry at Book Expo America this week, so I will try to ask him if he is working on something else. I completely agree that he gave the reader credit for being able to put the pieces together without having to explain every part of the puzzle in detail. This is definitely one of the reasons why the novel continued to move at the speed it did.
See you in Long Beach!