What can I say about a thriller that debuted to such fanfare in the publishing industry and the blogosphere? Reviewers and other writers in the genre have been falling all over one another to lavish praise on this debut novel, making it a runaway bestseller.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is “about” the cat-and-mouse game between a former US super-spy and a Saudi terrorist. The action takes place in New York City; Jedda, Saudi Arabia; Washington DC; rural Afghanistan; Bodum, Turkey; and Karlsruhe, Germany. The story involves the New York Police Department, the CIA, the FBI, the President of the United States, the Saudi secret service, and the Turkish police.

I enjoyed the book. I found its drive and energy to be compelling, making it difficult to put down. But I don’t think it’s worthy of the extravagant comments that have issued from the keyboards of so many reviewers.

Here’s the deal: I Am Pilgrim is both a spy thriller and a murder mystery, which is both clever and intriguing. The plot hinges on an unusual (though not unique) take on the greatest threat to those of us who live in the continental US. The author clearly conducted a considerable amount of research into the technical aspects of several disparate fields, which enlivens the story and adds texture to it (though I won’t even name those fields, for fear of spoiling the suspense). Above all, the book is well crafted, using the tricks of the thriller trade to build suspense through its door-stopping 700 pages.

That’s all to the good.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes ★★★☆☆

However, the characters in this novel are all overdrawn, as is the case with so many thrillers. The men are all extraordinarily brilliant and unfailingly competent. The women are all gorgeous (and one of them is also extraordinarily brilliant and competent herself). The writing, though entirely serviceable, is undistinguished. The author shifts back and forth from first-person to third-person perspective, making it confusing what the storyteller really knows, and how he came to know it. And several of the major revelations in the twists and turns of the plot are less than surprising.

In other words, Terry Hayes has written another blockbuster best-seller designed from the start for Hollywood. I’m going to be more cautious when the next one comes around.

Terry Hayes is an English screenwriter and former journalist. Though he has a list of screen and TV credits as long as his arm, I Am Pilgrim is his first original novel. (He previously wrote the novelization of the film Mad Max.)

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