Published by: Atria Books (Imprint of Simon Schuster
Review written by: Justin Boyer
Amazon.com (Kindle Edition)/ Barnes and Nobles (Nook Edition)/Kobo/ Goodreads
Being a very judicious reader, I often find myself either staring intently at the clock on my nightstand or trying not to nod off, when reading a ridiculously soporific story that has failed to engross me. I am not one of those people that will force myself to tortuously read a book that I’m not enjoying, so I rarely review things that are dull and boring, for I never get a chance to read the book in its entirety and give it a fair assessment. Now, why preface my review with this strangely pedantic description of my reading habits; well, I was very surprised that Terry Haye’s first tour-de-force novel I am Pilgrim is completely antithetical to the type of dull book that leaves you scrutinizing the clock, rather than keeping your attention fully on the book.
Terry Hayes is a veteran, when it comes to writing film scripts for noteworthy films like Payback and Mad Max 2. His experience with working with film scripts that require writers to be assiduously focused on pacing and conciseness really helped him create a novel that juggles so many different elements so well. I am Pilgrim is a thriller for the individual that does not usually read thrillers, like myself, but is prepared to read anything that will engross so much that they wish they could remain awake for an inordinate amount of time, just to finish the damn thing. At every point at the end of a chapter, Terry Hayes whiplashes the reader with a sudden stroke of suspenseful genius, by throwing out one more nuance or revelation into the greater scheme of the plot. Like a masterful novelist wizard, he keeps you invested in the back-stories of not just the shadowy secret agent of a main character, with dozens of different aliases, but he also does a great job seamlessly juxtaposing the story of our questionable hero with that of the very complex villain, whose story reveals a very realistic study of the “covert world” of crime and terrorism that hides in certain areas of the Middle East.
I’ve only ever watched one season of the long-spanning television series,24,and I thought that the first season was really the only season, in my opinion, that was a true stroke of genius. I’m all too aware, from my own disappointment with the formulaic/derivative nature of that show’s second season that books and shows in the thriller genre are very hard to successfully create. I think the one thing that I came away with, as both a reader and aspiring novelist, from reading I am Pilgrim is that thriller writing might be one of the hardest genres of writing to truly get right. Not to make generalizations, but fantasy writing, especially the epic type, sometimes can get muddled in exposition and long-winded architectural descriptions- pedantic fluff- that I think readers of that genre quite admittedly enjoy reading. But, thriller readers hate that type of stuff, especially if it obstructs the frenetic pacing of the story that should be always making the reader very anxious about what is bound to happen next. The first season of 24 quite literally depended on a time structure that mirrored how the core conflicts of these stories are working under the clock to get certain things done. And, I am Pilgrim really reminded me of the first season of 24, in that you really felt your heart hammering against your chest, as your index finger, trembling with anticipation, taps the Kindle Touch screen at lightening speed, so that the story keeps moving.
Directing my focus back to the actual scheme of the plot, I am Pilgrim does a great job jumping between a span of decades, to reveal the mysterious back stories of our novel’s protagonist and antagonist. Rather than have either one be one-dimensional, both characters are very complex to the point that I’m still scratching my head over trying to completely grasp the motives, the thought patterns of our story’s main “hero” or “secret agent.” In many ways, Scott Murdoch, an agent with many aliases, is a chameleon of sorts, in a psychological sense, in that his conventional identity disappears, when entering the fray of his missions, and trying to presciently think of his main antagonist’s actions. It is impressive how much both their stories mirror each others, in a very uncanny sense, in that they both have some of the same psychological dispositions, yet both of them act very different, depending on the past, the culture they grew up in, etc. Terry Hayes deftly balances both of their perspectives with fairness and nuance, and we are provided enough reasons to give the reader some hint, as to why each character ends up in the positions they are,as psychological alter-egos in a sense, engaged in a very tenuous battle of the wits that will have very severe consequences for the world, depending on who will outwit the other.
There are so many different facets and elements to both characters, and the story is structurally intricate enough to make anyone skeptical of the thriller genre (or disenchanted by it) deeply interested in I am Pilgrim. Terry Hayes is a writer that will teach us,in some way, how great writing can really wholly involve our whole minds in the story. Again, I am a reader that reads thrillers reluctantly, because so many of them (that I have had the misfortune of reading and tossing away) have the tendency to have superficial caricatures (versus characters), trite espionage mission story-lines (that seem lazily plucked from one of the worst James Bond movies), and very simplistic writing. Fortunately, I am Pilgrim conversely has a very rich story-line, complex characters with deep psychological issues, and writing that is both smart and lucid.
So, if you are looking for the dynamite kit of a thriller novel that will make your mind positively explode with excitement, this is the book to bring to the beach or pool-side, and completely forget you’re in either of these areas. Bring extra sun-tan lotion, because you won’t want to vacate your beach chair, once this book is cracked open. I would really love to see a film or tv show, based around the character of Scott Murdoch, in some way!! Just think how a great film or tv studio can really make this story shine!! For now, we are left with a very good, very engrossing, very fun thriller novel that will keep you up at night!! I really hope to see more thriller wizardry from the mind of Terry Hayes very soon!