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Review: I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes

This book could be a world of trouble for the crime/thriller reader looking desperately for a treasure trove of unread books written by a person who knows how to write.
There’s no doubt Hays can write; this is a great book. But he’s getting on in years, after a long career in newspapers and TV and this is his first shot at a novel . . . and it was published last year. There’s no sign yet of another book.
What may be Hayes’ only book (Heaven forbid), has a central character who is tough as nails and clever as a fox. (Hayes has much better similes.)
Scott Murdoch is a secret agent working for an agency that is so secret there are maybe three people who know it exists.
Scott himself is a little difficult to pin down. He has no verifiable past, a long list of names he uses as the need arises and a job that keeps him always in the shadows. In his current assignment he is the Pilgrim.
Hayes is a dancing master. He goes back and forth through time, skips around any number of locales in various countries and manages to tie two plots into a coherent whole.
There is a murder in New York that may never be solved. The murderer destroyed the victim’s face, fingerprints and teeth. And wiped down the scene with industrial cleanser.
And in Afghanistan there is a young man known to those who seek him as the Saracen. He is what is known as a “cleanskin.” No name. No photos. No footprints of any kind. All that is known is that he is planning an attack on the U.S.A.
The Pilgrim, using every resource at his disposal, comes to the conclusion that the attack will be in the form of an epidemic of smallpox.
When a young U.S. billionaire dies under suspicious circumstances in Turkey, Pilgrim uses this as an excuse go there to investigate on behalf of the government, knowing that the location, not the crime itself, is where he wants to start tracking down the Saracen.
There are plot threads running in all different directions, which Hayes handles masterfully, so it is not surprising that when everything has been resolved, we’re back at the murder in New York. And it makes perfect sense.
This is a good book. Just don’t get hooked on Hayes as a favourite novelist.