Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Review: "I Am Pilgrim" by Terry Hayes

Holy crap. This was an intense, terrific read that still has my heart pounding.

There's a man whose real name is known by very few people. Call him Pilgrim. At one point he was the head of a secret intelligence force within the U.S. government, but after retiring from that job, he is forbidden to speak about what he did, where he was, or for whom he worked. He wrote a book about some of the most notorious cases he dealt with, some of the most ingenious criminal minds he encountered, but he had to publish it under a pseudonym.

Asked by a detective friend to observe a crime scene, he finds something tremendously disturbing—the murder was committed using techniques from his book. It seems nearly impossible to determine the identity of the victim or the killer. But little does he realize that this will be the least of his problems.

Pilgrim is called into service once again by the government, after traces of a bio-hazard are found within the smoldering remains of three bodies in Afghanistan. This investigation sends him to Turkey, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, even Saudi Arabia, in search of a "cleanskin"—a ghost, a criminal with seemingly no past he refers to as the Saracen (the nomad). The Saracen has plans for full-scale destruction, plans that he has been nurturing since childhood. And Pilgrim has no idea just how he is connected to other cases, other events in his own past—and he isn't even sure if the sharpest minds in the intelligence community are good enough to find the Saracen before disaster strikes.

There's so much more to this book than I've described, but it is better to let these things unfold as you read them rather than lose the elements of surprise and suspense. Pilgrim is a fantastic character, and some of the supporting characters are equally as fascinating and well-drawn. I Am Pilgrim is a sweeping thriller with intelligence and heart. It's the story of an immensely clever man on the hunt of someone who might be even more clever—and infinitely more dangerous. It's the story of friendship, of loyalty, of bravery, of trying to do right by those who believe in you. There's some fantastic action and suspense, but it is so well-written as well. This is a big book, over 600 pages, but I flew through it as quickly as I could (and if I could have just sat and read uninterrupted by life, I would have finished it a few days ago).

It's the first day of 2015, and I have little doubt that this will make my list of the best books I'll read all year. And as I read it, all I kept thinking was, I am so sad that my father is no longer alive, because he would have loved this book as much as I did.

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