I Am Pilgrim
Hardcover, 624 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2014
Scott Murdoch is a member of a secret government agency, so secret that only a few in the country are aware of it's existence. After years of living in the shadows, Murdoch decides on retirement and writes a book on forensics as an act of closure. Instead of a quiet life off the grid in Paris, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation at a seedy New York City hotel. The killer appears to have committed the perfect crime and then disappeared without a trace - all while using Murdoch's book as a how-to manual.
Soon he is pressed into service by high-ranking government officials, traveling to the Middle East in search of a lone wolf Saudi terrorist, with the fate of Western civilization hanging in the balance.
"The world doesn't change in front of your eyes; it changes behind your back."
At 600+ pages and cover art that some might call dull, I Am Pilgrim did not immediately strike me as a "summer read," the kind of page-turner I like to take on day trips to the lake. However, it didn't take more than the opening lines before I was hooked. Hayes has the somewhat dubious distinction of writing the first crime scene that I've excitedly read aloud to my husband over a glass of wine at night.
This book is a rare treat - a literary spy thriller that defies stereotype. Our hero is a young, but extremely accomplished, member of a secret government intelligence agency. The bad guy is a young, radical, Muslim terrorist, hellbent on the destruction of Western civilization. The novel is full of exciting chases, thrilling shootouts, and exotic locations. It does not, however, feel tired or overdone at any point. The book is a fresh take on the traditional spy novel. It's filled with enough twists and surprises to keep you on your toes. Hayes uses exciting side plots and character back stories to allow for some breathing room between tense scenes but these scenes are far from dull. On the contrary, they serve to flesh out his characters and bring them to life in a way that many suspense novels fail to do.
Though this is a debut for Hayes, his experience as a screenwriter results in an absorbing, action packed, heart-in-your-throat read. The pacing is perfect, building suspense in just the right spots and then unleashing the action in explosive bursts. Expertly delivered foreshadowing leaves you breathlessly awaiting the next surprise, the next twist. It's not difficult to imagine the blockbuster film this book will become.
In the end, this book is certainly a contender for best-of-the-year lists. It starts as a murder mystery, becomes a spy thriller, and ends up as one of the best books you'll read this year.
(I received a copy of this book from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.)