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4.6 out of 5 stars
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller
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141 of 150 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle Edition
This is definitely the best covert ops/terrorism/murder book I have read this year. Whether it gets into my top 10 best thrillers depends on how long it remains in my memory. There is a lot to remember in a complex 700 page book that left me with so many impressions - intelligent and clever, superbly and deeply plotted, brilliant characterisation, ambitious, enthralling, page-turning, action-packed and mostly unpredictable.

Pilgrim is the codename chosen by a man who doesn't want to exist. An adopted son of a wealthy family he has always been a loner and after college becomes part of an unknown covert US government group. After becoming the star operator in the group in an operation in Russia he goes into anonymous retirement and writes an obscure book under a pseudonym about the forensic background to the perfect crime. Can anyone commit the perfect crime using this information?

On the other side of the world in Saudi Arabia another youth grows up in a world where his father is beheaded for being reported to the secret police for criticising the King. This leads him into a life dedicated to Islam but also a life dedicated to eliminating the US, the country who supports the Saudi regime and fights his fundamentalist Islamic ideals. This is the birth of a terrorist called Saracen, a loner with long term plans to change the world.

Hayes takes us on an epic and unpredictable journey by Pilgrim to solve a perfect crime and at the same time find Saracen before he can deliver a far greater blow to the US than a nuclear holocaust. The action moves from the US to Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Turkey in a maze of seemingly unconnected events and builds up to a potentially cataclysmic ending.

Along the way Terry Hayes sows seeds that grow in unexpected parts of the plot. Sometimes I spotted the seeds but rarely worked out where they would grow. This cleverly designed unpredictability was to me the keystone of Haye's writing powers. At the end of the book he reflects that he had been told that writing a movie is like swimming in a bath and writing a novel is like swimming in the ocean. With his writing skills I think that Hayes would have no difficulty swimming across the (literary) Channel.

Terry Hayes has had a remarkable writing career as a journalist, and TV and movie screenwriter in Australia and the US and this novel is the start of what could become an important career as a novelist. Dame Gail Rebuck, CBE (Chair of Penguin Random House) has reportedly called it "The best debut thriller since Day of the Jackal". I am inclined to agree.

Note: This book is published in Australia, NZ and the UK but won't be released in the US until May 2014.

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119 of 133 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I won't provide a summary of the plot in my review as this can be obtained in the Book Description on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. I'll just say that what starts off as a very challenging murder investigation turns into a break-neck race against time by the former head of a secret US government organization to try to stop a terrorist attack that could bring the US to the brink of disaster. To say more than this runs the risk of providing spoilers or, at a minimum, to potentially detract from your ability to find out for yourself what occurs in the book.

After reading the first 100 or so pages of the 624-page Kindle edition of I Am Pilgrim, I was sure that this book was on its way to receiving a 5-star rating from me. However, the next 400 or so pages were so descriptive of every move and thought by the "good guy" and the "bad guy" with little action and thrills occurring on these pages that I often found myself just "eyeballing" many pages, with the hope that the book's pace would fulfill my ingoing expectations for an action-packed thriller. A more secondary issue I had with this book is that, while it was very descriptive of many elements pertaining to the main characters' behaviors and attitudes, it did not provide me with a strong enough sense of what they LOOKED like so that I could form a picture of them in my mind. As such, they came off as sort of "faceless" people to me.

Ultimately, my expectations were fulfilled in the last 75 pages or so -- and I Am Pilgrim fulfilled my expectations during these pages in a BIG way! I found that I couldn't turn these last pages fast enough to find out how the book ended. As a result of its final pages, my overall rating which I initially thought was going to be 5-stars, and then dropped to what I thought would be no more than a 3-star ("It was okay") rating, wound up earning a 4-star ("I liked it") rating overall.

If you think this "up and down ride" with I Am Pilgrim would be a problem for you, than I suggest you definitely save your time and money and read something else. However, if you think that its exciting conclusion would override the flaws mentioned above, than I think I Am Thriller is one you'd enjoy. And, if the latter is the case, I think you'll agree with me that first-time novelist, Terry Hayes, has the potential to eventually become a top-notch thriller writer. I, for you, will be looking forward to reading his next book, which I expect will feature the same main character.

I received an e-copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.
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62 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
An extremely literate story about a battle between two titans of their respective sides. One is an American, adopted son of a family with a great deal of privilege, currently an agent for a U.S. government agency only depicted as higher than the CIA. The other is a poor Arab boy born in Saudi Arabia but turned into a terrorist by the Saudi's execution of his father for no apparent reason. The American uses the name of Pilgrim in order to hide his real identity and has become one of the most effective agents his agency has. The Arab is turned onto terrorism by the Saudi's execution of his father just because the man spoke badly of the king. He decides that revenge against Saudi Arabia would be best served by a massive terrorist attack on the United States, which he deems the Saudi's ally. He proceeds to buildup a well prepared background becoming known as the Saracen in order to effect this attack.
Hayes is brilliant in developing the two characters, their motivations, their reactions to each other as mortal enemies. The reader knows each one intimately through the author's descriptions and can relate to their actions on an ongoing basis. What the Saracen decides to use to attack the United States demands a preparation that only a very bright mind could conceive of and work towards. It is a credible threat that the reader will be able to identify as possible. Pilgrim's planning and actions against this enemy must be even more clever in order to win the mental battle between them.
The action moves back and forth starting with a murder investigation in New York and ending in Turkey.
Hayes, in an afterward, indicates that film rights are in process and I would certainly be a fan of that if it comes out. In the meanwhile I do trust that the author is planning more books for the near future, and those I will grab as soon as available.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
What can I say about a thriller that debuted to such fanfare in the publishing industry and the blogosphere? Reviewers and other writers in the genre have been falling all over one another to lavish praise on this debut novel.

I Am Pilgrim is “about” the cat-and-mouse game between a former US super-spy and a Saudi terrorist. The action takes place in New York City; Jedda, Saudi Arabia; Washington DC; rural Afghanistan; Bodum, Turkey; and Karlsruhe, Germany. The story involves the New York Police Department, the CIA, the FBI, the President of the United States, the Saudi secret service, and the Turkish police.

I enjoyed the book. I found its drive and energy to be compelling, making it difficult to put down. But I don’t think it’s worthy of the extravagant comments that have issued from the keyboards of so many reviewers.

Here’s the deal: I Am Pilgrim is both a spy thriller and a murder mystery, which is both clever and intriguing. The plot hinges on an unusual (though not unique) take on the greatest threat to those of us who live in the continental US. The author clearly conducted a considerable amount of research into the technical aspects of several disparate fields, which enlivens the story and adds texture to it (though I won’t even name those fields, for fear of spoiling the suspense). Above all, the book is well crafted, using the tricks of the thriller trade to build suspense through its door-stopping 700 pages.

That’s all to the good.

However, the characters in this novel are all overdrawn, as is the case with so many thrillers. The men are all extraordinarily brilliant and unfailingly competent. The women are all gorgeous (and one of them is also extraordinarily brilliant and competent herself). The writing, though entirely serviceable, is undistinguished. The author shifts back and forth from first-person to third-person perspective, making it confusing what the storyteller really knows, and how he came to know it. And several of the major revelations in the twists and turns of the plot are less than surprising.

In other words, Terry Hayes has written another blockbuster best-seller designed from the start for Hollywood. I’m going to be more cautious when the next one comes around.

Terry Hayes is an English screenwriter and former journalist. Though he has a list of screen and TV credits as long as his arm, I Am Pilgrim is his first original novel. (He previously wrote the novelization of the film Mad Max.)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Wow! I agree with all of the positive things about this book that have been pointed out by the other reviewers. It is a long novel, but I didn't want it to end and had trouble putting it down. I generally read about one book per week, almost always of the mystery/suspense/thriller type. I have read all of the most well-known and acclaimed authors in this genre. Greg Iles is still my favorite, BTW, but this novel, the first offering by Terry Hayes, stands out as one of the very best thriller/espionage novels I have read in some time. Highly recommended In short, an awesome new talent has obviously emerged. I can't wait to read his second novel!

As an aside, being a professional molecular biologist, I noticed that there were a few minor aspects of the science that Mr. Hayes didn't quite get right, but this didn't diminish my enthusiasm for the novel. Just in case he reads this, I feel compelled to point out that when an order is placed with a company for synthetic DNA, it is routine to compare the sequence of the requested DNA fragment with the database of nucleic acid sequences in GeneBank and/or other similar databases. If the sequence matches part of the genome of an organism that is a so-called "select agent", like anthrax, plague, smallpox, tularemia, ebola, etc., then it is almost certain that law enforcement agencies would be notified. I know for a fact that this is true in the United States, where most companies that market synthetic DNA are located. Whether this is also true in secondary markets like China, I am not sure. Yet in the novel, the Saracen purchased at least several DNA synthesizers of his own. Using just these instruments it would have been possible to accomplish his objective in secret. Of course, the more DNA synthesizers, the less time it would take. His objective comprised about 130,000 base-pairs of DNA, which would take a lot of time to make in one's garage, but nonetheless, theoretically it could be done. If a rouge country or group with considerable financial resources desired to do this, it would not be that difficult for them to accomplish in a relatively short period of time. The genetic blueprints of virtually all deadly human pathogens are accessible on-line, as the author points out. Moreover, the particular pathogen that the Saracen was seeking to produce happens to be one of the few for which the assembled DNA itself can easily be used to produce the infectious agent, and a deadly one it is indeed!

This novel should be a wake-up call for all of us. The ability to produce synthetic pathogens is now firmly within our grasp, and it seems reasonable to be worried about this. We need surveillance not only of customers ordering fragments of DNA that correspond to genomes of known pathogens and potential bioterrorism agents, but more so on the sales of DNA synthesizing machines. One machine, or even two, in a single laboratory is of no concern at this time because it would take at least decades to do any harm. However, the threat from dozens or hundreds of those instruments, located in a single facility, is palpable. What assurance do we have that private companies or wealthy individuals are not accumulating the necessary tools to transform the fiction in Mr. Hayes' novel into a terrible reality? I think many scientists could do it, if they wanted to, given enough money... I am not going to accuse a particular group, but in general, religious fanatics who have earned a higher degree in molecular biology need to be watched most closely. You would have to have a PhD to do this kind of genetic engineering.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle Edition
I received the ARC of the Kindle version of this book via NetGalley as a member of International Thriller Writers and appreciated the opportunity to read this debut thriller. Espionage thrillers are not my usual choice for reading, but I was immediately intrigued by the compelling voice. The story starts out rather slow, with a lot of introductory back story. This happens again and again through the book with long sections providing background--and the book for that reason is quite long.

Had it not been so well written I might have set the book aside. And the main character--despite being a phantom with many aliases--kept me turning the pages to find out ultimately what would happen. As others have said, Pilgrim is very much the Super Spy, risen to the highest position within a secret government organization at an unbelievable youthful age. His exploits and abilities challenge the reader's suspension of disbelief...but it's wildly entertaining! We get to live vicariously through his thrilling escapades across the world, as he competes against an equally accomplished and brilliant terrorist who also stretches the limits of bad guy-icity in a very clever and unique way.

I look forward to reading more from this author.
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54 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Given the reviews I thought this would be something special, like the 'the girl with the tattoo' trilogy or a new Hennig Mankell. It isn't, the characters are formulaic, the disillusined CIA operative, the tough but good hearted cop, you can see Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman playing these two roles. The writing is very over described and at times plodding, the author seems to assume his audience has a mental age of about 15. I wish I could cut and paste to show how bad this can be at times. The baddie is again straight out of central casting, the traumatized son of a 'good' man who turns to terrorism and is fiendishly clever ( he's a doctor no less) it's all very Hollywood and very cliched. What is good is the depth of research and some of the action sequences, the author has done his homework, but really it isn't anything new and it's very slanted towards America and it's view of the war on terror. Not for the discerning reader.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The problem that I have with reviewing I AM PILGRIM isn’t my usual one --- how to begin --- but rather how to finish. Before I even had the book in hand, I had a couple of folks recommend it to me in the strongest possible terms, which is what I will do for you as well before we’re done here. They also understated their cases, but can be forgiven. This is a mammoth book, one that criss-crosses the world and goes back and forth over a couple of decades within the course of several hundred pages, with side journeys off the wild night’s ride of the two main plots.

Let me begin with a warning: once you start reading this book, you won’t want to stop. There’s no good place to do so, either. I tried to go to sleep a couple of times one night but found myself wondering, as the limerick goes, who was going to do what to whom, and succumbed to reading a few more pages. Until I was through. I doubt that your results will differ.

The Pilgrim of the title uses a bunch of different names during the course of I AM PILGRIM, such as Scott Murdoch, Jude Garrett, Richard Gibson and Peter Campbell (yes!), among others, for a very good reason. Pilgrim is summoned in a consulting capacity to a rundown hotel room in New York where a woman’s body has been discovered. All distinguishing and identifiable features of the victim have been burned off with acid; the room has been washed down with an industrial-strength antiseptic; and all of her teeth have been pulled and disposed of. We gradually learn who Pilgrim is, and why he has been brought in as a consultant. The story is told in anything but a linear fashion; Pilgrim is an expert criminologist who does not exist, and also has been the titular head of an off-the-books government agency, a sort of Internal Affairs Bureau that oversees the NSA and CIA, administering a swift and certain unapologetic rough justice for betrayal.

When events overtake the agency and is shut down, Pilgrim moves restlessly from place to place, concealing his identity and maintaining himself as a moving target against the enemies he has made throughout the world. He is pressed back into service, however, when an Islamic fanatic known as the Saracen devises a plot to bring the United States --- and, by extension, Israel --- to the ground. It is made clear that this event took place several years in the past, and is something that only a handful of people knew of. Clearly, Pilgrim stopped the Saracen; otherwise, he would not be around to tell the tale that he narrates so well here. What is not immediately obvious, though, is how Pilgrim does so, which is not revealed until toward the end of the book.

And the murder that opens I AM PILGRIM? Oh, we learn a thing or two about that as well, and a whole lot about Pilgrim, as relayed with side-trips short and long into his past, stories of spy tradecraft and rough men who stand ready in the night while we sleep peacefully. Even when author Terry Hayes brings the narrative to a screeching halt while Pilgrim goes off on the equivalent of a “hey, that reminds me…” tangent, the book remains fascinating and riveting from first sentence to last paragraph. Oh, and that last paragraph. It’s a beautiful one, so much so that it almost eclipses all that has gone before.

Before I go, let’s talk about Hayes for a moment. If you don’t necessarily recognize his name, you know his work in film, which includes such classics as Payback and the iconic The Road Warrior. But I AM PILGRIM is in a class all its own. I am not entirely sure that it’s fiction, to be honest; it reads more like a memoir, and there is an important element in it --- one that kind of kickstarts the book --- that seems to hint that perhaps Hayes is standing in place of one of those rough men I mentioned earlier. It’s either a testimony to his imagination and talent as a writer or my own imagination. Or insight. We’ll probably never know. But what I do know is that I AM PILGRIM is the must-read book of this summer.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
'I Am Pilgrim' by Terry Hayes is an outstanding, exceptional piece of work.
It opens in a hotel room in New York, at the scene of a rather gruesome murder of a woman found in a bathtub.

Pilgrim is the codename of a man who doesn’t exist, but here he is at the request of a friend to attend and help him with the investigation.
Whilst surveying the crime scene it becomes evident that the perpetrator may have used a criminal forensic investigation book as a reference to assist with the a murder. Intreagingly a book that just happens to have been written by Pilgrim.

'I Am Pilgrim' by Terry Hayes is an outstanding, exceptional piece of work.

I didn't know anything about the book before I read it and don't want to spoil it for other readers but suffice to say that the reader is in for a tremendous fast paced, action packed thriller. Hayes takes us on an exciting journey from London, Paris, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia to the Hindu Kush, on an international manhunt to find the killer and to thwart a plot to bring down the House of Saad, the Saudi Arabian Royal family, and destruction of the USA.

Pilgrim is a witty, intelligent, quiet unassuming character that I liked very much. I found all the characters intensely interesting. Hayes’ style of writing is slick, taut and intense and at times pretty gruesome. Some scenes are incredibly emotive and you find yourself believing in and caring about the characters. During one section set in Jeddah I was really moved, and horrified as the scene unfolded, and by the emotional destruction of those affected. The transitions between character to character and their associated stories is seamless and flawlessly managed.

This is the first spy thriller I have read, but in the post 9/11, Iraq and Afganistan world we live in, I, as are many other people, am a little more aware that governments and intelligence agencies are working in the background to seek and intercept acts of terrorism. Having also lived in Saudi Arabia, with an interest, and a little understanding of the politics of that country, I find this a credible and frighteningly plausible tale.

The 700 pages just flew by and I never lost interest, even slightly. 'I Am Pilgrim' is my absolute favourite read this year and I would certainly recommend it to family, friends and any thriller enthusiast or novice as in my case, without reservation.
This is Hayes debut novel and I will definitely keep a look out for more by him including the film !
I absolutely loved it !
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
For a first novel, Terry Hayes does a spectacular job. I bought it based on a brief recommendation in Parade and it was great!! I don't usually write reviews, but I thought this deserved an exception. I can't wait until he comes out with his next one.
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