I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim Terry Hayes‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes opens with an elite intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim being brought out of retirement to investigate the brutal murder of a woman in the rundown Eastside Inn in New York whose identifying features have all been dissolved with acid. Meanwhile, Pilgrim is also attempting to track down a Saudi Arabian doctor known as the Saracen who was radicalised after his father was publicly beheaded and is seeking revenge by unleashing a deadlier version of smallpox on the United States. It later transpires that the two investigations are closely linked.

‘I am Pilgrim’ is a debut novel although it doesn’t always read like one. Hayes has already had a successful career as a screenplay writer and this is definitely evident in some of the main setpieces of the story which are very cinematic in scope set in various locations across the world and often very gruesome. The character of Pilgrim also known as Scott Murdoch has a solid background for a secret agent as the adopted son of a wealthy American family and there is a lot of detail about both his and the Saracen’s past.

The main strands of the plot – which sees Pilgrim trying to solve a murder mystery and foil a bioterrorist plot, later followed by another murder mystery – could easily have been developed into separate novels and I’m still undecided as to whether or not it was a good idea for Hayes to include all of these ideas in one book. It probably doesn’t help that the plot hinges on some pretty far-fetched and sometimes downright ridiculous coincidences to create the links between the storylines. I thought it was particularly odd that Hayes draws on real events, most notably 9/11, while fictionalising other key elements such as creating entirely different US presidents. However, thrillers also wouldn’t be much fun if they were entirely plausible or if the bad guys were always caught at the first hurdle. The plot is satisfying if you are happy to be swept along with it and has a neat ending. Moreover, apart from a bit of a lull about three quarters of the way through, the pace is sustained consistently throughout which is impressive given that it is one of the longest books I’ve read this year.

I would recommend ‘I Am Pilgrim’ if you are looking for some absorbing escapism. However, this book has definitely confirmed for me that I prefer action thrillers on screen rather than on the page. Blockbusters are not exactly renowned for their subtlety whereas it is harder to get the balance right in a novel, particularly where characters are concerned. Film rights for ‘I Am Pilgrim’ have been sold to MGM and I would be interested in seeing how it’s adapted for the big screen (just as long as I don’t have to watch the scene with the eyes…).


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7 responses to “I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

  1. Col

    I can see what you mean about Action Thrillers on the screen rather than the page. But I think there are several that do stand up on the page – this just wasn’t one of them! It was a bit overdone for me and when I reached a coincidence too far ( and I got to that stage about half way in) I sort of lost faith in the plot really. It might translate better to the screen as you say!


    • I prefer reading psychological thrillers as they tend to be more focused on characters. I wonder if it’s possible to condense I Am Pilgrim into one film – Hollywood seems to like dragging franchises out with several instalments because it guarantees them an audience so it could end up being a trilogy of films…


  2. I’m not a huge reader of thrillers, but I did enjoy I Am Pilgrim. A good page turner.


  3. Pat

    Hi Clare, I tend to agree with Col on this one, I’m no fan of action thrillers on screen and the coincidence too far as Col puts it would cause the same loss of interest as it did in the reading. Definitely a ‘trilogy of films’ I will avoid


  4. Pingback: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins | A Little Blog of Books

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