Are you sitting comfortably? Then Victoria King would like to tell you all about a superspy racing to halt Armageddon in a taut thriller that laughs in the face of stereotypes.
I am Pilgrim is the debut novel from journalist/screenwriter Terry Hayes, who has written big-screen big hitters including Mad Max 2 and Dead Calm. Though not usually a reader of thrillers, I read the back cover blurb and was hooked.
This is a bloody big book, coming in at a huge 888 pages, but it’s really two stories for the price of one: an apocalyptic thriller and a murder mystery. As the (riveting) extensive back story prepares you for a series of adventures, you’ll understand why it needs to be so big – and you won’t be able to put it down.
The story begins with what seems to be an unsolvable crime: a woman murdered in a cheap Manhattan hotel. All her identifiable features have been removed: her teeth, her fingerprints, even her face.
The investigating officer is stumped, until he remembers a book he read on forensic crime investigation and realises the perpetrator has, quite clearly, also read this book.
Pilgrim wrote this book.
Hayes then plunges us into the world of Pilgrim himself, a shadowy character even in the underworld he used to inhabit. A former CIA agent who headed a special operations unit and was answerable only to the President, our man had (mistakenly) thought he’d left that world behind him. Now they need him back.
Once he’s been tracked down, Pilgrim is forced to try to work out what links this New York murder to a man publicly beheaded in Saudi Arabia and a scientist blinded as he leaves his laboratory.
In some ways, Pilgrim is no ordinary man. Imagine, if you can, the lovechild of James Bond and M: a tough and lethal superspy who is sharp as a pin. But that doesn’t mean he’s all fast cars, guns and Savile Row suits. Our hero knows his flaws and his abilities: he is human, and because of that he is totally convincing.
Pilgrim’s shrewd adversary, known as the Saracen, is equally intriguing. What then follows is a battle of wills and intelligence. I tried to anticipate their next move and, thanks to Hayes’ ingenious twists and turns, failed miserably. Our hero’s quest takes us halfway around the world in a race against time to avert global atrocity. In a post 9/11 world of paranoia, Hayes taps into current fears about terrorism in a way that feels scarily prophetic.
This is edge-of-the-seat reading: I felt as if I was sitting up straighter, and the tension of the story really affected me. A big bold story that gut-punches you hard, this smart action and intrigue-packed book is delivered at a breakneck speed that belies its hefty weight.
I loved it. I was exhausted when I finished, but felt I’d been part of something important, monumental even – trying to save the world can do that to a girl. This is the start of a series, and MGM have already snapped up the film rights. I’ll definitely be going to see it at the cinema.
Next time I am talking about Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. The blurb on the back sold it to me before it won the Costa First Novel Award. Grab a copy and join me.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is published by Bantam991 Views
Victoria is working on her first book. She is also a flag-waving survivor of Crohn’s Disease. And she loves a Mr Whippy.