Saturday, June 7, 2014

I Am Pilgrim: Terry Hayes


Summary at the US publisher's site:
This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist, in a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest.
PILGRIM is the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent. His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen barely sees his dissident father beheaded in a Saudi Arabian public square. But the event marks him for life and creates a burning desire to destroy the special relationship between the US and the Kingdom. Everything in the Saracen’s life from this moment forward will be in service to jihad. 
I rarely buy a book in the year it is published. I was so excited about this book that I pre-ordered a copy to get it in hardback on the day it was published in the US. So, of course, I worried that it would not live up to my expectations. I was not disappointed. This is one of my favorite reads so far this year.


I am very fond of espionage fiction, so it is no surprise that I liked this. I don't know about comparing the author's writing to Le Carré and Robert Ludlum. I have read Le Carré (and think very highly of his writing) but I think every author brings something different. If you like Le Carré, this could be for you. I have not read Robert Ludlum although I intend to read some of the Bourne books.

The central character, the spy who has run an elite espionage unit in the past, has had many identities and many code names. Of those who even know of him, he is a legend. But he has reached a point in his life when he has left spying behind and is in a new untraceable identity.  Then several events come together to force him back into the spy game.

The author's writing kept me interested in the adventures of the Pilgrim through the 600 plus pages. That in itself says a lot, since I prefer shorter books. It was not a fast-paced plot, but it never dragged.  This is a debut novel, but the author has written screenplays for several movies and mini-series.

There were many interesting characters, although the most compelling were the spy and his quarry. I especially enjoyed the parts of the story that take place in Bodrum.

Other reviews:
At S. Krishna's Books, Ms. Wordopolis Reads, crimepieces, Clothes in Books, girl vs bookshelf, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

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Publisher:  Atria / Emily Bestler Books, 2014
Length:    604 pages
Format:   Hardcover
Setting:   The US, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Turkey
Genre:    Spy fiction

22 comments:

  1. TracyK: I greatly enjoyed reading I am Pilgrim early this year. It is a grand thriller. At the same time I had enough issues with the book to write a second post about my concerns with the book. It is a rare book that I can recommend and believe will be a bestseller but at the same time have significant reservations.

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    1. Bill, Sorry I forgot about your review and the follow up post about the reservations. I will add a link to your review. I intentionally did not read your 2nd post before reading the book, and now I have gone back to read it (and comment). You make some good points. I really had no issues with the book, except I suppose it could have been shorter. The length did not bother me. For me, the book kept me entertained to the point that I did not stop and think about any small points that bothered me, sort of like watching a thrilling movie. I was immersed in the story, even though it took me several days to get through it.

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  2. Like Bill, I might have had some issues with this book, but in the end I decided to just let it sweep me along - it was very over-the-top but you could not fault its entertainment value. Glad you enjoyed it too.

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    1. I agree, Moira, great entertainment value. Reading Bill's post made me think about whether I would reread it. At this point I don't think so, but a few years from now I may change my mind. (I consider all of Charles McCarry's books rereadable, and Len Deighton's also. Whether I will ever have the time is another matter.)

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  3. Still on the fence with this one but I put it on my wishlist.

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    1. Keishon, this is a book I loved but not sure about recommending it to anyone else. It is a big time investment (plus money) and not everyone will enjoy it so much.

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  4. Tracy - That does it. I am going to have to read this book. With all of these fine endorsements of it, what choice do I have?

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    1. Great, Margot, and I hope you enjoy it.

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  5. Glad you enjoyed it in the end Tracy. You must have really been looking forward to it, I don't think I've ever pre-ordered a copy of a book I've been excited about. Another success story to add to your list of long books! It really doesn't feel like 600+ pages though, does it?

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    1. Marie, I really like spy fiction. For some reason, this one grabbed my attention. I was a bit worried about the length, but it all worked out. You are right, it did not feel that long. It did get a slow start, taking several days to get through the first half, then finished the last half very quickly. That has happened in all of my very long books this year.

      The very next thing I read was another spy fiction book, Len Deighton, only 240 pages and it was very good too. Just in a different way.

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  6. Thanks for the link, Tracy, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. It made me realize just how few spy novels I've actually read so I'm not the perfect reviewer for the book!

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    1. Possibly, Rebecca, but I think the points you made in your review were valid. I read the complaint somewhere that spy fiction is too slow and that is usually true (there are exceptions). I did not even make the point in the review that the story is narrated in first person, which is one of the reasons I liked it. Enjoyment of a novel of any kind is really a very personal thing and for me sometimes varies with the state my life and mind is in.

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  7. Still fence sitting - too long!

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    1. Col, I do understand... yet you read BETWEEN SUMMER'S LONGING AND WINTER'S END at 640 pages. (I have that on my shelves.) I say, go with your gut. Only read it if it appeals.

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    2. Trayc, yes that's why I'm so undecided. I think it would have to be soemthing I'd read on holiday or when I have a long weekend with nothing scheduled, otherwise it would hang over me.

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    3. Col, if you can find a few days when you have some time off to concentrate on this book, that would be the best way to read it. Not that it is a demanding read, but good to be able to keep reading, especially toward the end.

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    4. Oops - two typos above - apologies, especially mis-spelling your name. Fat fingers and in too much of a rush. I think you've sold me on it. We have a week away booked in August so maybe then. There is the possibility my mojo might be returning - I read 300 plus pages yesterday - finishing one book and starting/finishing another!

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    5. Good to hear that your mojo is returning, Col. I finished two shorter books quickly after I Am Pilgrim, but now having a hard time starting another.

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  8. I absolutely loved this book and it was my top read of 2013. Glad you liked it too!

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    1. Sarah, it was your review that first informed me of this book and got me interested. It has been a while since I have been so eager for a book to come out here so I could read it immediately. The book was very entertaining, and thought-provoking.

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  9. Tracy, I won't be surprised if le Carré and Ludlum indirectly inspired this book. They've had a big influence on espionage fiction. I read Ludlum in college and le Carré only some ten years ago. You'll like Ludlum's novels. There is so much to read. As for the book under review, I'll go with the majority view and try and read it at some point. The longer the spy fiction, the more exciting it gets.

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    1. I am sure you are right about the inspiration, Prashant. I recently read a post where the author, Terry Hayes, picked his top three spy thrillers, and he picked one by Le Carre, one by Ludlum, and one by Frederick Forsyth. Pretty good group there. I have read Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal for sure, but don't remember what else.

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