I Am Pilgrim

I Am Pilgrim

by Terry Hayes


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I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

“I Am Pilgrim is simply one of the best suspense novels I’ve read in a long time.” —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A big, breathless tale of nonstop suspense.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“The pages fly by ferociously fast. Simply unputdownable.” —Booklist

A breakneck race against time…and an implacable enemy.

An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid.

A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square.

A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard.

Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan.

A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity.

One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439177730
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Publication date: 12/02/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 49,166
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Terry Hayes is the New York Times bestselling author of I Am Pilgrim and the award-winning writer and producer of numerous movies. His credits include Payback, Road Warrior, and Dead Calm (featuring Nicole Kidman). He lives in Switzerland with his wife, Kristen, and their four children.

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.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for I Am Pilgrim includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    An intelligent and taut debut thriller that depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist.

    Pilgrim is the code name for a world-class and legendary secret agent. He’s the adopted son of a wealthy, Waspy family and was once the head of an internal affairs force for US intelligence services. He held the vaunted title Rider of the Blue, which he acquired after he was forced to assassinate his turncoat predecessor in Moscow.

    His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen 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 apartment near Ground Zero. A woman lies facedown in a pool of acid, features melted off her face, teeth missing, fingerprints gone. The room has been treated 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 Arab’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.

    If you liked I Am Pilgrim you might also like:

    Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

    Code of Conduct by Brad Thor

    Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kannon

    Questions and Topics for Discussion

    1. Discuss the structure of I Am Pilgrim. Why do you think Hayes chose to begin his story with a crime scene in a New York apartment? Were you surprised by how the opening scene fit into the plot?

    2. Before Terry Hayes wrote I Am Pilgrim, he was a successful screenwriter. Were there any scenes in I Am Pilgrim that you found particularly cinematic? Which ones and why? If you were casting I Am Pilgrim, who would you choose to play the role of Pilgrim and of the Saracen?

    3. What did you think of the Saracen? What do you think led to his radicalization? Explain your answer.

    4. I Am Pilgrim begins with the line, “There are places I’ll remember all my life.” (page 3) Discuss the places that Pilgrim names. Why are they memorable to him? Are there any places that are particularly significant to you? What are they? Tell your book club about them.

    5. S. Krishna’s Books writes that I Am Pilgrim “features . . . an expansive, ambitious storyline as it sets the standard for the post-9/11 spy thriller.” How do the events of 9/11 factor into the plot of I Am Pilgrim? Many of the characters were affected greatly by events of that day. Who are they and how were they affected?

    6. In interviews, Hayes has cited Stephen King, Khaled Hosseini, David Baldacci, and Vince Flynn as writers he admires. How do you think these writers inspired Hayes while he was writing I Am Pilgrim? Do you see any similarities between I Am Pilgrim and their works? Discuss them with your book club.

    7. Describe Pilgrim’s friendship with Ben Bradley. How did they become friends? In what ways, if any, are the two men alike?

    8. When I Am Pilgrim was published, it was praised by the Associated Press in a review that said, “The storytelling and a truly intriguing protagonist make I Am Pilgrim a contender for best-of-the-year lists.” Did you think Pilgrim was an intriguing protagonist? Why was he such a compelling character? Is there anything you wish you knew about him? What?

    9. What was your initial impression of Leyla Cumali? Did your opinion of her change? If so, how and why?

    10. When asked if his writing took unexpected turns, Hayes said, “Did the book take unexpected turns? Oh boy, did it.” Were there any plot twists in I Am Pilgrim that were particularly shocking to you? Which ones and why? Were you surprised by the way I Am Pilgrim ended?

    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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    I Am Pilgrim 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 142 reviews.
    Qwillery More than 1 year ago
    I Am Pilgrim is a deeply engaging thriller by Terry Hayes. It's filled with everything I love about thrillers - great characters, a frightening scenario, the slow and unrelenting build of suspense, and a deeply layered story. Pilgrim is brilliant but so is Saracen, the person he is trying to track down to avoid a disaster of epic proportions. Watching Pilgrim's mind work is a real joy. He's clever and inventive. He is the first to admit to his shortcomings. He does make mistakes. He's not omniscient, but when it comes to investigating he has no peer. He puts things together is ways that are remarkable yet explainable (and are explained). This adds a great deal of depth and veracity to the novel. We get to see how Pilgrim thinks. He also works hard. He hunts down clues. He's a man of action when necessary. The Saracen is also very intelligent. His life history is slowly shown to the reader throughout the novel. The reader is privy to why he's become single-minded in his quest to bring down the United States. The Saracen is very, very patient. He is one man, more or less off the grid, planning unimaginable destruction. The plan he eventually concocts appears frighteningly real which heightens the intensity of the novel. In addition to trying to stop the Saracen, Pilgrim is also figuring out a couple of murders that are unrelated to the Saracen plot. I enjoyed this part of the story as well because it gave me additional opportunities to see Pilgrim in action and see how his mind works. I Am Pilgrim is a beautifully written novel with excellent pacing, wonderful twists and turns and plenty of action. The story not only switches back and forth between Pilgrim and Saracen, but there are flashbacks to Pilgrim's past. The reader gets to learn quite a bit about Pilgrim's life and who he is. Hayes handles this back and forth and the shifting story lines skillfully. There is a very strong cast of well-developed supporting characters who help or hinder Pilgrim in various ways. I Am Pilgrim is a nail-biter. Even after 600+ pages I was disappointed that the novel ended. I wanted keep reading about Pilgrim and to be in his mind a bit more. If you enjoy well-crafted, exciting espionage thrillers this is an absolute must read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have never written a review until i read this book. Must have!! Finally a real novel with depth. No skipping of pages like i have done with baldacci, cussler, and even clancy. I will be buying his next book as soon as it comes out. Kris
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Unbelievable novel.  If you like Ludlum or early Tom Clancy - you have found a new author to follow.   I recommend you purchase this book and take a couple days off to read it.  An astounding read and one of the best.  Exceptional work and I cannot wait  for the author's next novel!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I tried to make this book last but I could not stop reading it; will recommend to everyone and look foward to other books by this new author
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have never written a book review before. I read over 300 books a year. This is the best book I have ever read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I haven't read a page-turner this gripping for a long time. I neglected other priorities, stayed up past my usual bed time and read over lunch at work a couple days in a row just to find out what would happen next. Great read! There are lots of specifics about the book I really liked, but those would be spoilers. So, just pick up a copy and enjoy the ride.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I read a lot of books. So I have gotten a little picky over the years. So when I find a book that is pretty remarkable, I have to say something about it. Especially when it is a first novel. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is such a book. Oh My Gosh! I remember seeing this book in an airport bookstore in Denver a couple months ago. The cover wasn't spectacular but for some reason I picked it up and read the blurbs and the synopsis and filed it away in the "to be read" box in my head. Fast forward to a week ago. I am in my little local library just seeing if there is anything new that would keep me busy and I noticed in the large print new releases, I Am Pilgrim. My memory kicked in and I remembered that I had wanted to give it a try. Large print didn't bother me, my eyes probably need it. So, I took it home. I was in the middle of reading another favorite author, Terry Brooks, but right before bed I picked up Pilgrim and read the first page. And the second, and the third and realized very quickly that I had found something special. It is a rare thing for this to happen. For me, only a handful of times. The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, a very little known book by Martin Davies titled, The Conjurer's Bird, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Now, I add Mr. Hayes to the list. There is a depth to this book that rises it above most thrillers. A book I will actually remember as opposed to many that are just so much fluff. James Patterson comes to mind. There are some great thriller authors out there, Ben Coes, Marc Cameron, the late Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Matthew Dunn, Daniel Silva, Richard Doetsch, Greg Rucka. I read everything that is produced by these fine authors, but the only one that comes close to Hayes is Silva.Pilgrim begins with a brutal murder scene in New York City, a emotionally and physically wounded homicide detective and a brilliant investigator who has no name. From this beginning we learn all about this man, what he has done and where he has been. The action ranges from the dark days of 9/11 to the corridors of power in Washington DC, a farmhouse in North Dakota and to the mountains of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan as well as a city square and a beheading in Saudi Arabia which leads to a birth of a new kind of terrorist that will be hunted to prevent the deaths of millions of people. Hayes brilliantly weaves the histories and locales of all of these disparate entities into a novel that at times you long to put down, but can't. Watching the matching of wits between the Pilgrim and the Saracen is a thing to behold. This book and Mr. Hayes are the real deal. I am ready for the next one.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Terry Hayes is a well known screenwriter and this is his first novel. And what a debut. The Pilgrim (a name adopted by our hero in the book) has “retired” from a super secret department of intelligence known only as The Division. The Division was disbanded after 9/11 and this man of many names is living in Paris when a series of events causes him to return to the U.S. to protect his former identity. While in NY, he is observing the investigation of a murder in lower Manhattan. He quickly realizes that the murder is somehow tied to a book he authored under a pen name dealing with modern investigative techniques. Among the forensic evidence is a charred piece of paper with a set of numbers that don’t make any sense. And the murder is somehow connected to the main threat posed by the other main character in the book, code named the Saracen, which means Arab, or a Muslim who fights Christians, or simply, nomad. His formation begins watching his father executed in Saudi Arabia and progresses through the Afghan-Russian war to current post-9/11 terrorism. The Saracen has devised a massive bio-terrorism threat, and the development of this thread is detailed and disturbing. When the threat is recognized by the government, the Pilgrim is recruited back into service. He is not the perfect hero, and there are many twists and turns that will get your pulse beating rapidly. Despite being over 600 pages, the development of the story does not pause, coming to a heart pounding conclusion, and of course, the possibility of a sequel (although I would not bet my life on it). Don’t miss this one.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Couldn't put this book down -- storytelling at its best!
    dheron More than 1 year ago
    Great read!!! This is an exceptional book. I haven't read a spy thriller in years. I'm not even sure why I picked it. But boy am I glad I did. All of the characters are finely drawn. This is a complicated, deep plot. But the writing is so good that it just carries you along. I couldn't put it down. And I had a knitting project I needed to get done. Didn't matter. The knitting had to wait. I'm recommending this book to,everyone I know. Can't wait for Terry Hayes' next book. I wish I could tell him personally how much I enjoyed his first book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The best novel I've read in a long time. I was really sorry when it ended.
    JupFL_reader More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book. The writing was a bit trite at times. The wry comments made by the main character at the end of almost every chapter got a bit old. However, the book was very suspenseful with lots of twists and turns. It also took you across several countries investigating a crime (and a potential major crisis). I love the international flavor of the book. Overall - I highly recommend it as a vacation or weekend read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the best most thorougb books i have ever read,it rates up there with steven king in the details.I cant wait for the next one
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I liked the synopsis when this book popped on my list of recommendation and I preordered it knowing that is not a quick read. What an awesome and fascinating book, well researched and mesmerizing. Before long the pages flew and I was left wanting more. Highly recommended.
    Anonymous 16 days ago
    This story is really a set of intertwined smaller stories which have the same focal point. Well written, exciting, thought provoking and rooted in just enough of the real world to be scary. I would recommend it to anyone who would enjoy a masterful thriller.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    One of the best of this genre. Hard to see how Hayes can do it again. It must have been brutal for him to keep it all together. Bravo Hayes, Bravo.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Looking forward to his next book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Excellent writing...great story.. Thou, I would have done this Book up into three different books..
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Hands down, one of the best books I have ever read! I have gotten my entire family to read it along with close friends (really anyone that will listen!) and they have all said the same. Phenomenal writing and hard to put down!!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I purchased this book based on the glowing reviews I read and am extremely disappointed. I am nearly 200 pages in and I still can't believe that some reviewers said they "could not put it down". I paid more for this book that I have on most and I am beginning to regret it. I've actually considered just not finishing it because I find myself starting to skim pages hoping that something will happen. Not worth the time or money in my opinion. I hope it gets better, I'm not sure how much more time I willing to invest .
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Only read this if you have a few days at the beach because on the action and pace of the book, it is impossible to put down.
    wemsh More than 1 year ago
    This is a seriously great book. It will stay with you days after reading and the characters will haunt your thoughts. Buy it. Read it. Hope the author writes more!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Way too convoluted of a story. Only made it partway through and you too frustrated by the complex story within a story within a story, with pointless details and overly dramatic vague statements. I literally have no idea where the story is going because I get invested in one thing and then we have to go deeper into the back story... which then has its own back story, which then has it's own back door. I'm not reading 700+ pages of this.