I Am Pilgrim

I Am Pilgrim

4.6 113
by Terry Hayes

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This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist, in a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest.

PILGRIM is the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent. His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the… See more details below


This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist, in a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest.

PILGRIM is the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent. His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen barely sees his dissident father beheaded in a Saudi Arabian public square. But the event marks him for life and creates a burning desire to destroy the special relationship between the US and the Kingdom. Everything in the Saracen’s life from this moment forward will be in service to jihad.

At the novel’s opening, we find ourselves in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero. A woman lies face down in a pool of acid, features melted off her face, teeth missing, fingerprints gone. The room has been sprayed down with DNA-eradicating antiseptic spray. All the techniques are pulled directly from Pilgrim's book, a cult classic of forensic science written under a pen name.

In offering the NYPD some casual assistance with the case, Pilgrim gets pulled back into the intelligence underground. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting. The author shifts effortlessly from Pilgrim’s hidden life of leisure in Paris to the Saracen’s squalid warrior life in Afghanistan, from the hallways of an exclusive Swiss bank to the laboratories of a nefarious biotech facility in Syria.

The inevitable encounter between Pilgrim and the Saracen will come in Turkey, around the murder of a wealthy American, in a thrilling, twisting, beautifully orchestrated finale.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
A woman's body is found in a New York hotel, her teeth missing and her features dissolved by acid. All the surfaces in the room have been cleaned, and the room has been sprayed with disinfectant to destroy DNA that may have left behind. It's a textbook murder, and Pilgrim, once head of a super-secret espionage unit, is the one who (literally) wrote the book. On the other side of the world, a Muslim jihadist, code name Saracen, synthesizes a fast-acting form of the smallpox virus. It will spread like wildfire when released across America: there's no protection against it. Pilgrim is called in to find and stop him. One of this debut novel's virtues is the sympathy screenwriter/producer Hayes (Dead Calm; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) shows for both his characters: Saracen must be stopped, but you understand what led him to where he is now. In his quest, Pilgrim finds the answer to the New York killing as well. VERDICT Sure, the race against time to save the world has been done before but seldom this well. Once you start this taut and muscular thriller, you won't be able to put it down. [See Prepub Alert, 11/10/13.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
…the most exciting desert island read of the season…[with] more than enough subplots and flashbacks to keep readers riveted…Despite Mr. Hayes's long history as a movie guy…I Am Pilgrim is not a film treatment bloated into book form. It's a big, breathless tale of nonstop suspense, and it has something rarely found in big-budget movies of the same genre: the voice of a single writer instead of the patchwork nonsense created by endless collaborators and fixers. Mr. Hayes delivers his share of far-fetched moments, and no doubt he'd like to see I Am Pilgrim filmed some day. But he's his own worst enemy in that regard. His novel will be hard for any movie version to beat.
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/03/2014
Screenwriter and producer Hayes (Payback) makes his fiction debut with an exceptional thriller that boasts an utterly credible narrator who has had so many covert identities he can barely remember his original name. Soul-weary Scott Murdoch (aka the Pilgrim) has retired from the top echelon of ultrasecret espionage, but duty and faith in the human spirit call him back into service. A lone-wolf Middle Eastern native whom the Pilgrim code names “the Saracen” has a sure-fire bioterrorist plot to destroy the United States. In the cinematic chase that ensues, the action traverses the globe, from the Oval Office to the dusty trails of Afghanistan, each scene fleshed out in the smallest resonating detail (e.g., a Down syndrome child’s laughter, the endless nausea of waterboarding). Like many pilgrimages, this one is painfully long and packed with unexpected menace, its glimpses of the goal fitful and far between, but readers will agree that this journey of body and soul is well worth the effort. Agent: Jay Mandel, WME. (May)
"Exhilarating...Hayes masterfully guides readers through an incredibly elaborate, drum-tight plot."
Wichita Eagle
“A debut thriller reminiscent of John le Carre.”
I Am Pilgrim isan all too realistic tale of the dangers the next generation of terrorists cancatastrophically impose. The well-developed characters and the non-stopaction combine to produce a page-turning unpredictable plot.”
Associated Press Staff
“The storytelling and a truly intriguing protagonist make “I Am Pilgrim” a contender for best-of-the-year lists.”
The Pretty Good Gatsby
“I AM PILGRIM is greater than the hype. It’s the kind of book that rocked me to my core and left me breathless. It took me over a month to finally come up with a review but even after a month’s thought, nothing I say will be good enough. This book is that good...I’m counting on it becoming a huge hit this summer.”
Denver Post
“I AM PILGRIM has all the elements of a blockbuster thriller.”
S. Krishna Books
"I Am Pilgrim features great character development and an expansive, ambitious storyline as it sets the standard for the post-9/11 spy thriller."
That's What She Read
“Simply amazing…I Am Pilgrim is a fantastic read and needs to be on everyone’s summer must-read list.”
“[Terry Hayes is a] masterful novelist wizard.”
Bookaliious Mama
“Hayesis a master storyteller, and I Am Pilgrim is an amazingaccomplishment…the perfect summer read…it’s actually greater than thehype…can’t recommend it any more highly.”
Providence Journal
“Pilgrim turns out to be the most fascinating thriller hero I’ve encountered since Trevanian’s legendary Nicolai Hel... Bracing, blisteringly original, and hopefully not the last time we see both Hayes and Pilgrim.”
Weekly Gravy
“This is one of those whirlwind reads that is a sheer joy to dive into.”
The Huffington Post
"I AM PILGRIM Is the Best Book of 2014"
Naples Daily News
"Whatever you’re doing right now, stand up and turn around. Take a good look at the edge of your seat. That’s where you’ll be clinging when you read I Am Pilgrim.”
Bookalicious Mama
“Hayes is a master storyteller, and I Am Pilgrim is an amazing accomplishment…the perfect summer read…it’s actually greater than the hype…can’t recommend it any more highly.”
The New York Post
"The next 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'."
Kate White
"This murder mystery/spy thriller grabs you from the first sentence and won’t let you out of its grip. A brilliant American secret agent and forensics expert is in a race against the clock to stop a terrorist with a plan to destroy the United States. Please fasten your seat belt."
Brad Thor
"'I Am Pilgrim' is [a] gripping debut novel, which pits a brilliant intelligence operative against an equally brilliant terrorist. Weighing in at over 600 pages, you get your money’s worth and more with this thriller."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"The strongest [thriller] in years . . . a taut, global trek . . . a long and perfect pilgrimage. (Grade: A)"
The Hollywood Reporter
“I am Pilgrim is a great, gripping thrill ride of a novel (that still feels grounded in reality). If you're looking for an action thriller/spy story for the beach, Pilgrim is a winner.”
BOLO Books
“[I Am Pilgrim] is like a Jack Higgins novel by way of John Le Carré with more than a dash of Charles Dickens.”
The Washington Missourian
“Gripping from theget-go. . . A thriller of a spy novel."
“The pages fly by ferociously fast. Simply unputdownable.”
Mail on Sunday
"THRILLER OF THE WEEK. Delivers thrills and spills...A full tilt mix of Homeland, The Wire and The Bourne Ultimatum."
Irish Independent
"Massive in many senses, but none more so than its ability to exert a vice-like grip on the reader....Destined to be spy thriller of the year."
#1 New York Times bestselling author - David Baldacci
“Hayes delivers muscular prose, sniper-round accurate dialogue and enough superb and original plotting to fill three volumes. He balances it all with the dexterity of the accomplished storyteller that he so obviously is. I Am Pilgrim is simply one of the best suspense novels I've read in a long time.”
Suspense Magazine
"The best book of 2014."
Gregg Hurwitz
"I Am Pilgrim is a twelve-course meal of a thriller.... A breathtaking accomplishment of a debut."
The Times, UK - Adam LeBor
"I Am Pilgrim is a 21st century thriller: a high concept plot, but with finely drawn protagonists. The plot twists and turns like a python in a sack. Thestyle is visceral, gritty and cinematic...A satisfying and ambitious book, written with skill and verve."
Robert Goddard
"Rendition yourself into a pulsating thriller that never lets up as it carries the hero and the reader on an ever more desperate race between time and an all too plausible disaster for the world we live in. Great nail-biting stuff!"
UK Literary Review
"The narrative is thrilling: the tension tightens with action...It's a murder mystery, an illuminating account of contemporary international politics and a study of an unusual man......An excellent thriller which as a first novel is really remarkable."
My Big Honkin' Blog
“I Am Pilgrim might have you tempted to draw comparisons to other aces of the thrill, but those comparisons will miss the mark for this thoroughly original read that ranks among my favorites of the year thus far.”
People Magazine
“An intriguing, multi-perspective thriller… the story made me almost miss my subway stop.”
“I highly recommend I Am Pilgrim to fans of Mystery, thrillers, Spy novels, and action-adventure. The writing is much more highly evolved than your garden variety spy thrillers, with excellent characters and a great ending that blows up on the page.”
The Chattanoogan
“The best book of the year.”
Boston Globe
“Pick of the Week…gripping debut thriller. ”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“I was impressed with the confidence of Hayes' narrative voice and the complexity in his plotting, both of which make the violence and the tradecraft details thoroughly believable (and probably real).“
Fort Meyers Florida Weekly
“A definite page-turner.”
New York Daily News
·“I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes, is one of the best thrillers I have read in a real long time.”
“I've been trying to think of a classier way to answer this question, but the honest answer is that I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. After starting it, I read I Am Pilgrim every waking moment between work and sleep until I finished the last page… I felt like I was actually learning something while being entertained, and the tension just kept building until I thought I was going to burst.”
Sassy Peach Book Blogger
"Absolutely brilliant...beyond amazing...spellbinding."
Entertainment Weekly - Jimmy Fallon
''Dude, freak out. That's my new Gone Girl. Gone Girl was the last book that I couldn't put down. Seriously, email me when you read it. You'll be five chapters in, and you'll look up and be like, 'Dude!'''
Book Baristas
"Riveting, gruesome, thrilling, suspenseful, raw...I AM PILGRIM is one of the greatest books I have read."
Star Tribune
“A wicked game of cat and mouse that will keep you twisting and turning. Definitely the best thriller of the year! This is THE book!”
From the Publisher
The Best Book of 2014: The Huffington Post, Suspense Magazine, PopSugar, The Chattanoogan, Murder By The Book

Pick of the Week: The Boston Globe

Nominated: Goodreads Choice Award

One of Amazon's Best Books of 2014

One of the Top 16 Books on The Wall Street Journal’sSpring Break Reading List

Bolo Books
“The best way to describe Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim is to say that it is like a Jack Higgins novel by way of John Le Carré with more than a dash of Charles Dickens.”
Good Book Fairy
“Spy thriller, mystery and adventure all wrapped up into one page-turner of a novel…like Jason Bourne and Sherlock Holmes combined.”
print mention: New in Paperback Entertainment Weekly
“Part murder mystery, part globe-hopping spy adventure, this page-turner by screenwriter Hayes will have you anticipating the inevitable movie.”
Fantasy Book Critic
“A debut that will surely be considered a thriller classic in the future.”
Online Pick - Best Books of 2014 KSL.com
“This modern-day thriller, with its breakneck pace, intricate plot and well-developed characters, is impossible to put down…Terry Hayes is the new name to watch in thrillers.”
“If, like me, it's been a while since you read a truly compelling thriller, this is the book for you…absolutely compelling reading.”
New Mexico Review of Books
“Sharp in its pacing, crystalline in its prose, gripping in its suspense... it possesses an extraordinary credibility in its plot.”
Best Thrillers
“This epic spy thriller begins as an urban murdermystery, but quickly sprawls into a globetrotting manhunt with the highestpossible stakes. You won’t be able to put it down.”
Kirkus Reviews
Tom Clancy meets Robin Cook in a thriller that should find a place in many beach bags this summer.Debut novelist Hayes brings well-refined storytelling chops to the enterprise: He's written numerous screenplays, including Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Indeed, while reading this novel, one gets the sense it was written to turn into a screenplay or perhaps began life that way, what with its shifting points of view and a narrator who may or may not be reliable. Whatever the case, Hayes gets us into the thick of things right away: Pilgrim, a federal agent, is a brilliant student of the human psyche who just happens to have awesome killing skills that he's practiced on several continents; in Moscow, for instance, he recounts, "even though I was young and inexperienced I killed my boss like a professional." Don't give him a bad performance review, then. He finds plenty of scope for his talents when put up against a former mujahedeen ominously code-named The Saracen, who's resolved to wreak all kinds of havoc on the West for its offenses against Islam. He's a bad, bad man—the fact that he wasn't killed in the war along with a million other Afghans, Hayes writes, "would make most people question if not God's existence at least His common sense." Hayes is a master of the extremely gruesome scene—the opening involves an acid bath, and later we get popped eyeballs, beheadings and all kinds of grisliness. The story does go on a hundred pages too long and gets sidelined here and there, but it has considerable strengths, and the author gets points for avoiding at least some clichés and putting a few Arabs into key good-guy (or good-girl) positions.Two psychos enter, and one psycho leaves. Good entertainment for readers with a penchant for mayhem, piles of bodies and a lethal biochemical agent or two.

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Product Details

Atria/Emily Bestler Books
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Read an Excerpt

I Am Pilgrim

  • 1

    There are places I’ll remember all my life—Red Square with a hot wind howling across it, my mother’s bedroom on the wrong side of Eight Mile, the endless gardens of a fancy foster home, a man waiting to kill me in a group of ruins known as the Theater of Death.

    But nothing is burned deeper in my memory than a walk-up in New York—threadbare curtains, cheap furniture, a table loaded with tina and other party drugs. Lying next to the bed are a handbag, black panties the size of dental floss, and a pair of six-inch Jimmy Choos. Like their owner, they don’t belong here. She is naked in the bathroom—her throat cut, floating facedown in a bathtub full of sulfuric acid, the active ingredient in a drain cleaner available at any supermarket.

    Dozens of empty bottles of the cleaner—Drain Bomb, it’s called—lie scattered on the floor. Unnoticed, I start picking through them. They’ve all got their price tags still attached and I see that, in order to avoid suspicion, whoever killed her bought them at twenty different stores. I’ve always said it’s hard not to admire good planning.

    The place is in chaos, the noise deafening—police radios blaring, coroner’s assistants yelling for support, a Hispanic woman sobbing. Even if a victim doesn’t know anyone in the world, it seems like there’s always someone sobbing at a scene like this.

    The young woman in the bath is unrecognizable—the three days she has spent in the acid have destroyed all her features. That was the plan I guess—whoever killed her had also weighed down her hands with telephone books. The acid has dissolved not only her fingerprints but almost the entire metacarpal structure underneath. Unless the forensic guys at the NYPD get lucky with a dental match, they’ll have a helluva time putting a name to this one.

    In places like this, where you get a feeling evil still clings to the walls, your mind can veer into strange territory. The idea of a young woman without a face made me think of a Lennon/McCartney groove from long ago—it’s about Eleanor Rigby, a woman who wore a face that she kept in a jar by the door. In my head I start calling the victim Eleanor. The crime-scene team still have work to do, but there isn’t a person in the place who doesn’t think Eleanor was killed during sex: the mattress half off the base, the tangled sheets, a brown spray of decaying arterial blood on a bedside table. The really sick ones figure he cut her throat while he was still inside her. The bad thing is—they may be right. However she died, those that look for blessings may find one here—she wouldn’t have realized what was happening, not until the last moment anyway.

    Tina—crystal meth—would have taken care of that. It makes you so damn horny, so euphoric as it hits your brain that any sense of foreboding would have been impossible. Under its influence the only coherent thought most people can marshal is to find a partner and bang their back out.

    Next to the two empty foils of tina is what looks like one of those tiny shampoo bottles you get in hotel bathrooms.

    Unmarked, it contains a clear liquid—GHB, I figure. It’s getting a lot of play now in the dark corners of the web: in large doses it is replacing rohypnol as the date-rape drug of choice. Most music venues are flooded with it: clubbers slug a tiny cap to cut tina, taking the edge off of its paranoia. But GHB also comes with its own side effects—a loss of inhibitions and a more intense sexual experience. On the street one of its names is Easy Lay. Kicking off her Jimmys, stepping out of her tiny black skirt, Eleanor must have been a rocket on the Fourth of July.

    As I move through the crush of people—unknown to any of them, a stranger with an expensive jacket slung over his shoulder and a lot of freight in his past—I stop at the bed. I close out the noise and in my mind I see her on top, naked, riding him cowgirl. She is in her early twenties with a good body and I figure she is right into it—the cocktail of drugs whirling her toward a shattering orgasm, her body temperature soaring, thanks to the meth, her swollen breasts pushing down, her heart and respiratory rate rocketing under the onslaught of passion and chemicals, her breath coming in gulping bursts, her wet tongue finding a mind of its own and searching hard for the mouth below. Sex today sure isn’t for sissies.

    Neon signs from a row of bars outside the window would have hit the blond highlights in her three-hundred-dollar haircut and sparkled off a Panerai diver’s watch. Yeah, it’s fake but it’s a good one. I know this woman. We all do—the type anyway. You see them in the huge new Prada store in Milan, queuing outside the clubs in Soho, sipping skinny lattes in the hot cafés on the Avenue Montaigne—young women who mistake People magazine for news and a Japanese symbol on their backs as a sign of rebellion.

    I imagine the killer’s hand on her breast, touching a jeweled nipple ring. The guy takes it between his fingers and yanks it, pulling her closer. She cries out, revved—everything is hypersensitive now, especially her nipples. But she doesn’t mind—if somebody wants it rough, it just means they must really like her. Perched on top of him, the headboard banging hard against the wall, she would have been looking at the front door—locked and chained for sure. In this neighborhood that’s the least you could do.

    A diagram on the back shows an evacuation route—she is in a hotel but any resemblance to the Ritz-Carlton pretty much ends there. It is called the Eastside Inn—home to itinerants, backpackers, the mentally lost, and anybody else with twenty bucks a night. Stay as long as you like—a day, a month, the rest of your life—all you need is two IDs, one with a photo.

    The guy who had moved into room 89 had been here for a while—a six-pack sits on a bureau, along with four half-empty bottles of hard liquor and a couple of boxes of breakfast cereal. A stereo and a few CDs are on a nightstand and I glance through them. He had good taste in music, at least you could say that. The closet, however, is empty—it seems like his clothes were about the only thing he took with him when he walked out, leaving the body to liquefy in the bath. Lying at the back of the closet is a pile of trash: discarded newspapers, an empty can of roach killer, a coffee-stained wall calendar. I pick it up—every page features a black-and-white photo of an ancient ruin—the Coliseum, a Greek temple, the Library of Celsus at night. Very arty. But the pages are blank, not an appointment on any of them—except as a coffee mat, it seems like it’s never been used and I throw it back.

    I turn away and—without thinking, out of habit really—I run my hand across the nightstand. That’s strange, no dust. I do the same to the bureau, bed board, and stereo and get the identical result—the killer has wiped everything down to eliminate his prints. He gets no prizes for that, but as I catch the scent of something and raise my fingers to my nose, everything changes. The residue I can smell is from an antiseptic spray they use in intensive care wards to combat infection. Not only does it kill bacteria, but as a side effect it also destroys DNA material—sweat, skin, hair. By spraying everything in the room and then dousing the carpet and walls, the killer was making sure that the NYPD needn’t bother with their forensic vacuum cleaners.

    With sudden clarity I realize that this is anything but a by-the-book homicide for money or drugs or sexual gratification. As a murder, this is something remarkable.

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