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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Review: 'I am Pilgrim'

I am Pilgrim
By Terry Hayes
Crime fiction (espionage thriller)
May 2014
Atria Books
ISBN: 978-1439177723

A wise and rumpled NYPD detective has a stumper of a murder case in a seedy hotel. Everything that could identify the victim's body has been removed. Coincidentally, he knows one of the world's most accomplished investigators, a shady operative who worked in a division that not even the CIA was supposed to know about. So he'll help.

Just when the noirish quality of this story has been established, the scene shifts for a longish segment about a totally different story in Terry Hayes's debut novel. And it switches again. And again.

Hundreds of pages later, the threads all come together -- and come together very well. But this novel isn't really about that murder case. It's about the shadowy investigator called in by the cop. He's going to be set on the trail of a Muslum radical whose family was done wrong by the Saudi royal family. So this heartbroken young man is going to become an Osama-like radical and decide to bring down the United States instead of attacking the Saudi royal family (which is an actual political stance of some radicals but doesn't look too logical put that way).

The long, involved story of how the radical's childhood and what happened to his family is an engrossing story. So is the story of the investigator's childhood. So is the story of the NYPD detective. And of several other characters who come within the widening, then tightening, circle of the story's structure.

This kind of storytelling may not work for every reader. The book was not a pageturner because just when the narrative draws one into a certain character's story, changing to another character's story -- especially in a long flashback -- may make readers feel they've wandered into a different book and decide to put it down for a spell. Others may enjoy the badminton effect of going back and forth.

Whichever reading preference one has, Hayes, a former journalist who did the novelization for the original Mad Max and wrote the screenplay for the second film in the series, knows how to pull the storytelling strings within each section. And he knows how to finally pull the strings together. As a bonus for those who don't appreciate political bon mots in their thrillers, there are only two such little dumplings in the story. For those who do not look for a long commitment in their thrillers, be warned; the U.S. hardcover version of this novel is more than 600 pages.

©2014 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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