I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes

Four stars (of five)

Terry Hayes emerges on the scene with a well-crafted novel that will keep readers talking for years to come. A woman is found murdered in her hotel room, her features scorched off with acid. No clear answer can be determined, nor can a killer be easily determined. Hayes introduces the reader to his elusive narrator at this point, serving as the story’s navigator while shielding his own identity, eventually choosing the moniker ‘Pilgrim’. In a series of flashbacks, the reader learns of a father’s public beheading in Saudi Arabia and the enucleation of a Syrian biotech expert at the hands of a young man whose life takes dramatic turns in a short period of time. Alternating between historic occurrences of both men, Hayes shows how their paths will soon intersect in a most dramatic fashion. While Pilgrim heads to Turkey, deep undercover for the CIA, the murder he uses as his cover story might be more important than it appears at first glance, only pulling the reader deeper into the story and leaving them more confused at every turn. In a highly-complex tale of espionage, political retribution, and murder, Hayes keeps the reader guessing while also demanding more with each passing chapter. A wonderful introduction to a new and talented author sure to keep readers discombobulated and sated simultaneously.

I received numerous recommendations to try Hayes and his debut novel. Its mere size had me wondering how I would digest such a novel, but I am pleased that I took the leap. Hayes layers his novel in such a way that the reader must pace themselves so as not to miss any nuanced clues, but also to be able to digest the fast pace presented. Hayes does not write in a traditional fashion, whereby the story and its characters are spoon-fed to the reader. He challenges those who choose to embark on the adventure to work as well as entertain themselves. This may, alas, keep some peripheral readers out of the fray. However, those who cannot handle it can surely pick up a ‘just add water’ James Patterson novel!

Kudos, Mr. Hayes for this wonderful debut piece. Do keep them coming and not to scale back on the complexity.