Book review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes, book review, new book, novel, fiction, thriller, action, spy, Receiving the kindle version of I Am Pilgrim as part of a bloggers book tour, I settled into read the novel without researching the author or any broader publicity for the book.

The brief blurb I had read set it up as interesting thriller and to be honest, I wasn't even aware the author was Australian although references through the book, such as Dr Sydney, convinced me this was the case.

After turning the last page (or more accurately tapping the last screen) I read the book's credits and was impressed with Terry Hayes lengthy and stellar career as a journalist and screen writer which, by then, fitted well with my admiration for his first novel. (click cover to purchase)

I Am Pilgrim starts at a suitably rapid pace with a shocking crime scene, steamy sex references, fast-talking New York cops and a mysterious, intelligent, brooding figure from whose eyes the story is told.

Briefly I was worried it was going to be a trashy tale of blood and guts and tits and guns but after the attention-getter at the start, the plot began to twirl, the characters started to deepen and the voice grew steady and compelling.

We get to know Jude Garret or Scott Murdoch as the the blacker-than-black-ops spy who has rendered impeccable service to his country before disappearing from that life to... write a book.

This seems a little unlikely (his left brain says quietly, while his right brain says 'stop interrupting'). But Hayes' steady hand, unhurried approach to building context and character ensures we are happy to go with him on this and everything else he introduces.

The action continues apace of course, although not so much of the salacious kind, and it isn't gratuitous. In fact in recommending the book to a friend, I described how the author casts a very broad net in his writing before gradually, believably, drawing in the disparate cords, reeling us in inevitably to a powerful conclusion.

Early on, this left me wondering where the book was heading and I temporarily lost my way as the author introduced Saracen and built his complex back story. But I guess a fish is not aware of the net until it's too late and likewise as the story grew taut with story-lines meshing I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller.

The initial crime plot-line and the larger story of a silent, vengeful, holy warrior came together in Bodrum, Turkey and it is here we see the author as journalist on location, with his descriptions reading like creative non-fiction.

In fact the entire novel is tightly researched, and although the bigger theme of a cataclysmic attack against the US coming from the horror and injustices of the Middle East, is not unfamiliar, this story was original, believable and included a warmth and sympathy not always seen in spy thrillers.

Unlike many action novels of our time that are formulaic fast-food, I Am Pilgrim has personality and opinion and even spirituality. The Muslim faith is not treated overly sympathetically but at least is three dimensional as it is seen in its various forms in the lives of characters.

The Christian faith is less visible, but finds voice occasionally and is particularly referenced in the very last pages. A Buddhist monk has a moment as does a general wave to the God of whatever name. But through it all there are questions of purpose and meaning and on words and interactions that might be for a higher reason in changing the course of a life.

The American market will feel comforted by the positive traits of their spy chief and President, while there is possibly a nod to Wikileaks and Julian Assange coming in from the cold in the character Battleboi.

There are also strong depictions of love and courage and kindness, - an adoptive father, 9/11 self-sacrifice, a loving married couple, a decent President, ultimate love for a son. And there is the cold-blooded murder, the mercenary killing without feeling, murderous rejection and betrayal.

In other words, quite a good summary of human existence served up to all us pilgrims with the garnish of extreme, thrilling action such that we eat the lot and perhaps, later, try to digest what we have consumed.

But enough of the overplayed metaphors, which are not at all in keeping with the disciplined writing of Terry Hayes. Please let me recommend I Am Pilgrim. (click on Booktopia banner to purchase) - Australia's #1 online bookstore

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Paperback 704 pages, published August 1, 2013. RRP $24.95


  1. I had to stop reading I Am Pilgrim because of the overplayed metaphors. It's terrible.


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