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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2013
If you spend enough time at literary festivals, you come to fear and loathe the 'goody bag' - a delightfully marketed sling-bag full of books you never want to read and don't quite know what to do with.

Until it isn't that: the goody bag at Harrogate Crime Fest last weekend contained a small 'taster' booklet that offered the first chapter of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. I read it late on Saturday night, bought the book on Sunday and started reading it on Monday. I finished it late last night and it's been a fantastic week's read: a big, solid, chunky, fast-paced, rip-roaring thriller, the love child of a manic union between Jack Reacher and James Bond.

The pace and international flavour shouldn't be a surprise: from the start, this reads like the book of the film and that film will be a blockbuster. This is a debut novel, and (sorry, this is a cliche, but it's true) an astonishing feat that makes sense when we know that the author has been a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, covered the Watergate scandal and went on to be a screenwriter on such luminaries as Mad Max 2, Payback and Bangkok Hilton. So when we have Bondian 'hero escapes from insuperable odds' scenes set in giant warehouses with ships on gantries being sent hither and thither and our hero hanging by one arm, desperately trying not to be recognised by the Turkish police... it's easy to imagine it on a big screen with all the action and adrenaline and testosterone.

But the book isn't all that: the premise is clever. The narrator, whom we know primarily as Scott Murdoch - although we know that wasn't his birth name - is a member of the US's 'Department' - the spies who spy on spies - a kind of Military police for the CIA - staffed with people so deniable that even the department's existence is held secret. Pilgrim (as he becomes) starts of well by executing the corrupt leader in broad daylight in Moscow's Red Square and his life goes downhill from there until the point where he's asked to be the lone 'Pathfinder' sent out to Turkey to discover all he can about a man who seems to be planning a massive bio-terror attack. Actually, it's *the* worst bio-terror attack you could imagine: engineered smallpox which will rip through the world's population and reduced it to a fraction of what it was at the start.

Woven through the spy-hunting-terrorist plot is a secondary spy-helping-NYPD plot which follows the investigation of a murder in a grimy New York hotel. What makes it different was that both the victim and - so our hero thinks - the perpetrator were women. So we have a possible lesbian subplot which is always entertaining and certainly becomes so here.

The two plots inevitably collide in a small Turkish town, but not before we've been to Paris, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Bulgaria and seen side plots in London and Thailand. It's a vast, intricate, wonder of a book, full of clever use of technology and - I'm sure - a lot of research into how smallpox might rationally be spread. It also sounds a loud and clear warning: if the US government's planning is as woefully inadequate as the books suggests, then our civilisation's days are numbered.

I'm sure this will be a stellar hit, but get it early and be one of the pathfinders: It's a fantastic, fun, high-adrenaline read for the summer: just the thing to fill days on the beach or evenings at home.
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on 21 August 2014
I Am Pilgrim is the first novel by screenwriter Terry Hayes. Before I start over-analysing and “ruining” the book for you let me explain the reason this book was awarded 5 starts by me: it’s absolutely gripping. You simply can’t put it down, and though it is long, it is built from numerous small scenes so it flies by you in no-time.

Having said that, the book that has already been declared the next “Jason Bourne” is not flawless. The hero, later known as Scott Murdoch, narrates his story of being a member in an American elite intelligence and covert ops team called “the Division”. Meanwhile he also tells us a gripping tale of the Saracen, a nameless former mujahedin, set-out to bring America to its knees with an appalling mega bio terrorist attack.

The two stories run parallel, while at the same time we learn of Scott’s personal history as well as the tales of his numerous former operations. We also learn of his abilities a brilliant crime investigator, as he helps in a murder investigation in lower town Manhattan.

If you have read so far then I managed to interest you without giving away any spoilers... The problematic parts of the novel is that as it progresses, the what seemed to be plausible plot at first -- grows more and more detached from reality (or reality as us regular people know it). Plus, at some point in the novel, the narrator’s stories from the past are a bit of a nuisance. Whereas they are much needed at the beginning to understand what’s going on, they are redundant in the final acts of the novel, when we just want to get on with the story and reach its climax!
Finally, you can definitely learn that Hayes is a screen-writer, this book is nothing less than built as the next best blockbuster – it won’t be hard for Hayes to tweak it for the big screens.

Having said all this, it is a fantastic read, and a great first novel by any standards. Especially for action and spy tales lovers.
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on 7 August 2014
I'll say right out that some of the one star commenters make fair points but give them too much weight. The book does have far-fetched scenarios, such as light sensitive mirrors, but since when did a few stretchers get in the way of a good yarn? It also has over-painted minor characters, like the Turkish hotel manager whose charmingly idiosyncatic English would benefit from the less-is-more touch. Most importantly, the author's anti-Islamic and at one point anti-union views cut through the voices of omniscient narrator and central protagonist. But even here I had no trouble separating enjoyment of a gripping story from political opinions too infrequently stated to seriously get in the way. (Those who can't make such a separation might ask themselves why on earth they're reviewing at all on tax-avoiding, zero-hours-contract-loving Amazon!)

That gripping yarn factor gets this book three easy stars from me. The fourth is on account of some superb touches, like the scene where hero discovers real identity of woman phone caller and, to conceal an excitement which might give too much away, simultaneously issues excellent life coaching to an embittered musician. Hayes is also good on adversarial dialogue, a must for me in thrillers, and - like that other flawed but thoroughly-enjoyable-when-you're-in-the-mood pensman, Lee Child - delivers the goods when it's time for the bad guys, major and minor, to get their come-uppances.

Enjoy
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on 18 December 2014
I am Pilgrim has been touted as the epitome of the thriller genre since its release last year. Written by Terry Hayes, a former Hollywood scriptwriter, it follows Pilgrim, the once leader of a deep-cover US agency, as he attempts to discover a normal life outside of the 'secret world'. Dragged back into the mucky business after involving himself with a nasty murder at the bequest of his policeman friend, Ben Bradley, we follow him all over the world (but mostly to Turkey) as he attempts to unravel the plot of the creation and dissemination of a potentially apocalyptic smallpox virus by an Islamic fundamentalist.

You will immediately realise that Hayes has worked on big budget Hollywood movies as his novel reads just like a film script ideally suited for, say, a Tom Cruise type actor. His writing style is straightforward, his descriptions sparse on metaphor, simile and analogy. He reminds me of Matthew Reilly (a guilty pleasure of mine) in that his prose is engagingly simple whilst being largely unrealistic. Hayes' evident research for the novel is admirable as he comprehensively covers a number of obscure procedures and tasks I'd barely even heard of. I am Pilgrim is the ultimate disengage-your-brain novel and, as long as you like to spend lots of time on the beach - the book weighs in at some 890 pages - would make perfect holiday reading material. Fortunately the book's chapters are mostly short and easily digestible, allowing the reader the opportunity to read in short bursts if so required. I'd say overall I mostly enjoyed the novel but there were a great number of things throughout the book that bothered me and decreased my enjoyment and eventual rating.

I'll start with Pilgrim himself. Hayes attempts to paint him as a wholesome and endearing hero but I found him irritating pretty much from the off. He is caring towards a disabled child at one moment and executing a father-of-two with extreme prejudice the next. He claims not to be boastful and then proceeds to boasts about his appearance and abilities throughout the entire novel. He is the adopted child of a multi-billionaire couple to whom he showed little compassion and the regret of this plays on his mind at every opportunity. In my opinion he comes across as a poorer and more obnoxious version of Bruce Wayne.

Pilgrim wishes to escape from the 'secret world' yet proceeds to make some pretty inexplicable decisions that only serve to bring his existence to the eye of the public and any watchful foes. He writes a book under an (obviously flimsy as Bradley uncovers him with only the help of his wife) alias and attends a conference against his better judgement during which he is discovered by just the kind of people he has been attempting to avoid. Not exactly the brightest moves for a seasoned deep-cover operative to undertake, I should imagine.

Pilgrim's aptitude for his job as the world's most accomplished elite agent is constantly drawn into question. For someone supposedly at the top of their game Pilgrim comes across as hopelessly inept. He is constantly making mistakes, misjudging situations, and flagrantly ignoring protocol. There are a great many chapters to this book and the majority of them end with Pilgrim admitting to making a mistake. He repeatedly comes across as unobservant and inattentive in critical situations and, for the most part, any breakthrough he discovers falls over-conveniently into his lap, owing more to luck than any skill or feat of astounding detective work. I'm aware that the novel would be much less exciting if Pilgrim was absolutely accomplished in his role, but his constant lack of attention and major oversights quickly began to grate on me and made his unlikely back story and rise through the ranks (incidentally his quick-fire promotion to Rider of the Blue reads like he was awarded the job solely for having an itchy trigger finger) even less convincing.

I feel Hayes also allows his own personal political views to shine through his writing. He is often dismissive of the cultures and beliefs of foreigners and there are varying levels of unnecessary xenophobia. The most glaring instances of this involve Pilgrim mentally dismissing a taxi driver as a woman-stoning mentalist just for looking at him unusually and a totally needless summarising of the Japanese people based on the actions of their forefathers during the Second World War. The US, however, seems to escape any criticism and there is plenty of American jingoism included within the novel which I found odd as the author is of English/Australian descent. Perhaps he has spent too much time living in Hollywood...

The story is told from a first person perspective but often Hayes drifts into third person accidentally. Pilgrim also has a strange omniscience which allows him to explain every last detail of situations, intel and incidents at which he had not been present and as such should have no way of knowing about. I found this change of voice and otherworldly ability rather jarring and, unfortunately, they become more prevalent as the story went on.

There are possible spoilers ahead as I feel I must talk a little about the ending of the book. Look away from this paragraph now if you do not wish to uncover snippets from the conclusion of the story! Many people find the ending of I am Pilgrim to be disappointing. I actually thought it to read rather well and it rounded off the tale in decent fashion. I do, however, acknowledge that the ploy used to stop the Saracen's plan in its tracks was pretty weak. Would our bad guy give up his entire life's work to prevent a single death when the promise of paradise was awaiting on the other side? His ultimate decision becomes even more unlikely when you consider the smallpox virus he himself synthesised was likely to do just the job Pilgrim was threatening at the finale.

Despite the negatives I've went into above (and I know they appear to be many) I still enjoyed the book for the most part. Despite being a huge tome I proceeded through the numerous pages at quite a speed and found, as mentioned in some other reviews, the story strangely addictive. The book, despite annoying me at times, never felt like a chore and I never found myself dreading picking it up to read (I have to finish any book I start, a curse that I bear with great frustration). It works well as a thriller for the most part but I found Pilgrim's many flaws and questionable attitude dampened my enjoyment somewhat as I couldn't fully cheer on the protagonist. If you like big budget, pro-US action flicks and don't mind turning off your brain for 800-odd pages of often clumsy espionage thriller then I am Pilgrim is worth reading.
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on 14 November 2014
Like watching a dreadful B movie late at night and for some stupid reason feeling unable to just switch it off and go to bed. It does rather rattle along but it is really really unbelievable nonsense...as others have pointed out Tides in the Med...Nazi tunnels...incredible genetic engineering in the garage and the truly bizarre mirror trick.Many wasted hours....should have known better and had the courage to ditch it half way through
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on 22 November 2015
This is the kind of book that you - when read - leave in the airline seat in front of you. It doesn't deserve permanent space on the book shelf.

The book's plot is certainly above average, but the execution and language lacks so much to be desired that I frankly wouldn't bother. Pilgrim, the main character, is this ueber-007 on the hunt for the evil Saracen, who is about to finish off the world with a massive dose of infected flu-virus. In his quest he teams up with a, politically correct, police officer, veteran of 9/11, whose wife has somehow blown his cover though open source research. Credible? Hardly. Confidence inspiring? Certainly not.

The book follows an epic chase across the Middle East, Turkey and parts of Europe. It is very clear that the author has never set foot in most of the book's locations, which very quickly evolves into an irritation, which distracts from the plot itself. In Saudi Arabia, the oil fields have been moved to the West Coast (Jeddah), as has Aramco, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Secret Police. In Syria the secret police drive around in American Chevrolet SUVs (in real life they drive Peugeots as US goods are sanctioned and there is no way a Chevrolet can be serviced). In Lebanon, public transport stops so that passengers can get out and pray five times a day. In Lebanon?? Saracen - the badie - is a Saudi posing in Lebanon as a doctor. Yes, he speaks Arabic. But his West Coast accent would have given him away within 30 seconds of arriving. And so I can go on. Of course this is fiction and one shouldn't take it too seriously, but when you embark on 900 pages of this it starts to become a tad tedious.

I also found the use of language rather uninspiring. "Yes" is constantly substituted for "Yeah" and locations and places are normally defined in away that suggests the book's target audience is those without a passport. "Pilgrim traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, that country's capital city". You can almost hear the editor insisting on the elaboration.

Be in no doubt. The plot is excellent. Shortened and better researched the finished product could have had so much potential, but the finished product drowns in sloppiness. I would wait for the film to come out. It is bound to be better.
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on 19 March 2017
I made myself finish this book, but wished I hadn't. This is trash. Take what is wrong with the Jack Reacher books (mainly: a self-righteous, unlikeable, always-proved-right hero) and multiply it by 10 and you have this book. But at least Lee Childs know what he is doing and keeps it simple and to-the-point. Here, the set-piece situations and chapter-end cliffhangers seem utterly contrived, the language is cliche-ridden and repetitive (the word 'legend' is over-used, and everything with wheels 'fishtails'). The various strands of the story come together through a series of unbelievable coincidences to be solved by our self-glorifying superhero. The many 'if I only knew...' hints at upcoming events are just annoying. The 1st person narration merges uncomfortably with author narration. Pilgrim knows things he couldn't, and never could after characters have taken that knowledge to the grave. Without spoiling the plot too much: the science involving the mirror photography is ridiculous, and the way he ultimately forces the jihadi's hand would simply not work. These people believe that sacrifice -of themselves and of those close to them when necessary- is Allah's will. The book is also far too long (why delve into every character's back-story if it's not relevant?), and the final tying up of loose ends was unnecessarily clumsy.

Did I say I didn't like it much?
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on 11 January 2017
I came to this knowing that I Am Pilgrim was a huge book in every sense. At over 600 pages it is a commitment and one I'm glad I signed up for.

Let me start by saying that these type of thrillers are not my usual reading fare, preferring to watch rather than read. So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I entered the world of Pilgrim and it engaged me from the beginning. I soon became embroiled in espionage, undercover operations and secret identities. It's essentially a three pronged read with the stories intertwining about halfway through and that's where the plotline for me really picked up. I have to say it's no mean feat to sustain a readers' attention for over 600 pages in a world of espionage but Hayes pulls it off fairly brilliantly. Parts of it was adrenaline pumping keeping me glued into the dead of night. At other times it felt that a little too much backstory was thrown at it, especially during the first half. I can understand where Hayes was coming from but occasionally my attention waned and I really had to push through those parts. Once through though it was easy to become totally submerged. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and travelling all over the world with them. From dry, ravaged, mountainous terrains to beautiful Aegean oceans it's one heck of a trip!

Negatives? Well, yeah, there were a few. At times I felt Hayes didn't have many nice things to say about 'foreigners'. I can't really remember one time where he spoke about them in a positive light. Hhmmm. Pilgrim's decision making was at times questionable. For someone supposedly at the top of his game he did make some silly errors which were err head shaking. But overall I Am Pilgrim is a high octane read that I really enjoyed for the most part.

And this is the most shocking part of all ......... I think I'm going to have to read book two!! I know!!

Pilgrim has got my attention good and proper .... damn him!!
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on 16 June 2014
A narrator with the charm of a sedated bulldog and a plot as engaging as old socks. Half way through I realised that my time on this planet is limited and although they can sell me drivel, they can't force me to read it. Feeling liberated.
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I really need to stop reading reviews of books. I am Pilgrim was not the sort of book I’d usually pick up. I’m not averse to the odd thriller, especially on holiday, but the whole Macho thing really doesn’t do it for me. This one seemed a bit different though, so I gave it a try.
It’s a big old book, but has handily short chapters for the short of attention. Handy for reading on a long car journey.
The premise is basically as follows: The greatest spy in the world has retired at the grand old age of 34, but has been lured back into the game by an heroic, patriot who saved thousands of lives in 9/11. He is initially investigating a murder, but is sucked in to a plot to find a Saudi Arabian who is about to create a holocaust of innocent Americans by synthesising a super-deadly Small-Pox virus in his garage. Interspersed with this is a lot of angst about what the greatest spy in the world used to do in his early days and about how his traumatic childhood (mother killed; adopted by billionaires and given a prilvileged upbringing) still affects him.

I will admit, I enjoyed the pace and the sheer bonkersness of the plot, but became increasingly unsettled by the rampant Islamophobia and lazy writing throughout. For a highly educated government official, much of the protagonist’s comments appeared to come straight fromt eh mouth of a furriner-hating Sun reader. I found myself increasingly unsure about whether it was the author’s point of view I was seeing; the protagonist’s or America’s. One part of the novel, where people are going to be profiled at airports, states that it will be ‘difficult for muslims’. Why?Does one’s religion appear on one’s passport now? There seemed to be a constant confusion between religion and nationality throughout the novel, which you usually find on facebook.
Mind you, the author was fond of his stereotypes. Americans, by and large, were all good guys. The Cop expresses surprise twice that Americans would torture people “We do that to people?”. Apparently throughout Europe, bars fell quiet on 9/11, as if the whole world was in mourning. That’s not quite how I remember it, but ok. Turkish police are all corrupt. Italians are lazy (and make rubbish cars). British people, and here he bravely moves away from stereotypes, don’t all have posh accents – this one has a thick North Country accent. Women are all beautiful (apart from the fat nanny, or childminder, as they’re usually known if they don’t come to your house), especially lesbians. I was surprised to see Bodrum depicted as a kind of Turkish Monaco though; I think British readers will probably know it more of a Turkish Blackpool.

I wondered early on whether Hayes was trying to emulate Chandler – the quote at the front of the novel and clumsy attempts at his style would suggest it, but it almost became a parody of the spy genre. I quite liked the description of someone having a face ‘like an unmade bed’ – but then I saw it again and realised it was just lazy.
So, if you don’t mind having a load of stereotypes hurled at you, you can cope with a 1000 page love song to America and you can suspend disbelief, go for it. I expected finely drawn, deep characterisation, a more balanced view of the reasons behind the conflicts and was disappointed. Will be sticking to Nick Harkaway for troubled spies; he’s more believable.
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