I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
Pub. Date: May 27, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Simon & Schuster!!)
Summary: Can you commit the perfect crime?
Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation.
But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book.
What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
I Am Pilgrim is a sweeping 700-page behemoth of a novel that spans multiple decades and continents and I could have easily read another 700 pages. I’m typically hesitant to give in to hype, I’ve been burned in the past, but with this novel, the hype is not only deserved, but actually doesn’t do the book justice. I Am Pilgrim is greater than the hype. It’s the kind of book that rocked me to my core and left me breathless. It took me over a month to finally come up with a review but even after a month’s thought, nothing I say will be good enough. This book is that good.
I’m purposefully leaving the summary vague; uncovering the details is half the fun! What initially starts out as a routine – albeit rather gruesome – murder investigation in a seedy New York hotel quickly spirals into a whirlwind race across Europe and the Middle East to stop a crazed zealot from raining destruction down on America. Throw in some ultra-secret government divisions, biological warfare, and a main character with severe mommy issues, and you’ve got the backbone of I Am Pilgrim.
It’s never fully revealed just who our main character is. He was adopted as a child and later on recruited for an agency where he was given a new name and a new past. With each case he took on a new identity. He’s a ghost, living on the fringes of society, never getting close to anyone. After he left the agency, he wrote a book detailing various crimes and unique methods of killing. He becomes involved in the murder investigation after it becomes clear the killer used his book as a blueprint, a checklist of what not to do and how to get away with it. From there I Am Pilgrim takes on a life of its own and I happily buckled in for the ride.
This is a novel where there’s So. Much. to say but saying it will give away the book’s secrets and I refused to ruin it for anyone! I Am Pilgrim is definitely not for the queasy and makes that clear with the opening scene. Thankfully I’m the kind of person who can’t resist watching horror unfold and was thoroughly ensnared in this book’s web. I’m convinced Hayes is something of a genius – the way he introduced multiple stories that, on first look, appeared completely unrelated only to have everything come together at the end had me in awe. It takes a special kind of author to turn a book of this length into a frenzied page-turner, and Hayes is clearly a master of his craft.
I Am Pilgrim kept me up late, got me up early, and had me sneaking in some reading time whenever I could throughout the day. When I wasn’t reading this book I was thinking about it and counting down the minutes until I was able to get back to it. I realize this review is little more than me rephrasing “I LOVE THIS BOOK” over and over again, but when it comes down to it, that’s all I can say (without spoiling anything, of course). I Am Pilgrim is a highly ambition novel that fully lives up to those ambitions and I’m counting on it becoming a huge hit this summer. It appears this is going to be a series, and if that’s truly the case, I desperately need the next!
Putting aside my despair about humanity, I have to say I’m even more impressed by the killer – it couldn’t have been easy pulling thirty-two teeth from a dead person. The killer had obviously grasped one important concept, a thing that eludes most people who decide on her line of work – nobody’s ever been arrested for a murder; they have only ever been arrested for not planning it properly.
I had got up in the morning and by the time I was ready for bed it was a different planet – the world doesn’t change in front of your eyes; it changes behind your back.