I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

3:35:00 AM

I am Pilgrim Terry Hayes, I am Pilgrim casting


I am a sucker for a jacket quote. I am Pilgrim's cover is sprayed with praise. The only thriller you need to read this year. If you say so. It's the kind of thriller you grab at the airport. I see him, the ideal reader. A dude, he worked his ass off at a lousy job, he begrudgingly slathers on sunscreen, he likes to drink the local specialty, Ricard or a Bellini, his white flesh spread out on a stretcher, he slurps ogling the local girls in their bikinis.
I am not that dude.
But I enjoy a huge boisterous testosterone powerhouse of a book. So, who is this Pilgrim? He is an American spy. One chapter in, he hasn't earned his stripes yet, we are told that this man is smooth, capital shit smooth. He tells us himself, Pilgrim's chapters are told in a first person narrative. He isn't the best, he is the best of the best. Analytical, cool, with a masterpiece of forsensic criminal investigative writing under his belt. He also had the nerve to kill someone very important in his organization, a spy gone rogue, after, swallowing his status.
The story starts when Pilgrim (he has many names, let's use this one) is called in for his expert advice on a gruesome murder. He detects that a women is responsible. That she is cunning, a criminal viruoso. You see, she cleaned up after herself. Just as Pilgrim described in his own book. Wow, brilliant. Remember this. This is important. Or at least I was telling myself.

The story switches setting, Pilgrim is now in Switzerland. I was pleasantly surprised,  living here, how well the city and its undercurrents are captured.
This streak continues with every place we visit, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Damascus, Turkey, I am pilgrim's strong point is the vivid, precise and dissecting way of painting the scene.
The book is long, I normally I have no problem with that. But I was getting bored with Pilgrim. Fortunately after Switzerland, and Paris we get to leave Pilgrim behind and meet our villain.
This is the most impressive part of the story. This boy, the Saracen, who lives through the beheading of his father inflicted by the Saudi royal family, becomes a fanatic. First a fighter in the Afghan war against the Soviets. And finally a monster who cuts the eyes of a man but leaves him alive to get access to the weapon that will destroy the US and the Saudi family.
The book should have been called I am  the Saracen. He is awful, but you cannot wait to get back to him. Gripping, horrific, and just sick enough.
And then we go back to our hero.

Halfway through I was asking myself: how important is plot in a thriller?
Very important, you would say. ...Terry Hayes is a screenwriter, he wrote Mad Max 2: Road Warrior and the terrific Dead Calm. So how important is plot in a movie?
In a blockbuster you can blow your plot holes full of rubble, cover them up with explosion after explosion.
A study shows that human brain gets tunnel vision during a suspenseful movie scene. So inconclusive storytelling will incite the messenger boards, but let's face it, it is not that important.
A book is different. Maybe if you are on the beach, you have drunk too many Bellini and you fall in that angry slumber because the girls in their bikinis will not give you the time of day. Maybe then you don't care enough about plot. You just want to live vicarously through Pilgrim.
But this book is not my cure, and it's not Raymond Chandler. I want a goddamn functioning plot. I am pilgrim won't deliver it.

Now stop if you haven't read it, major spoilers ahead.

The story finally settles in a Turkish town of Bodrum. Somebody here called the Saracen in Afghanistan, while he was doing human experiments, from a pay phone. Pilgrim enters the county. His legend is pretending to be an FBI agent. Strangely not on a official investigation concerning a plot to destroy America. He is there under the pretense of investigating a murder of an American citizen, some guy who fell to his death.
Somewhere the first murder had to come back and in Bodrum, population 35,000, the two cases, the girl on girl murder in New York and the search for the Saracen come together.
By this point, a bit irritated by the Pilgrim's continuous bragging, I only kept reading to know how the two stories would converge. Pilgrim himself uses lots of foreshadowing, he has the sense that he forgot something that will come back to bite him in the ass. The NYC murderess read his book. Remember? She must have been haunting him. Stalking him? She must have found out his secret identity. She must want to meet him. Planned to sabotage this Turkish excursion.
No.
She just  pushed the American guy from a cliff.
I am Pilgrim wants me to believe that it is possible that two crimes, with one investigator, one that started in New York, the other in Saudi Arabia, one where the motive is greed, the other a revenge plot, come to a conclusion at exactly the same time in a tiny town in Turkey. Without ever converging.
Just by serendipity.

A minor disappointment is the take down of the Saracen. With his level of evil and ruthlessness I found it hard to believe that Pilgrim wins so easily.

I am sure that when the screenplay will be written, the unbelievable stretch of imagination, will be fixed. The femme fatale will be far more interesting and will haunt Pilgrim, predicting his every move thus giving an explanation why, oh why she murdered somebody in the exact same place,  where he had to be anyway. Or was she trying to be just nice,  being so clean and convenient?
Or if the don't fix it, they could just blow something up.

Can you use the explanation by accident as a plot devise? Decide for yourself. Don't drink and read and get back to me.





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