I picked up this tome of a book just before I boarded the plane in Manchester, United Kingdom, for home last year. WHSmith was having a “2 for 1” sale and I just grabbed the two thickest and most well-reviewed novels at the Bestsellers section. I really don’t know man… it is definitely a helluva read, but it is also painfully over-plotted and tediously over-written. Something must be wrong with me because I see thousands of raving reviews and mine won’t be one of them.
Can you commit the perfect crime? Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation. But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book. What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.
As a screenwriter, Terry Hayes gave us Mad Max 2, Dead Calm, From Hell and a few other noteworthy films. My copy of the massive book (888 pages) has a tagline that says “the only thriller you need to read this year”. For once, this isn’t some rubbish hyperbole tailored to make unsuspecting readers buy the book. But neither would I rave about it, but more of that later.
The premise is quite compellingly drawn – it starts with a gruesome crime scene and it segues to a larger plot involving a killer virus which will bring America to its knees. Hayes doesn’t re-invent the genre but draws two very credible characters that lift up from the pages. We get inside the head of a super-spy and learn what makes him an elite hero and a Jihadist doctor radicalised after watching his father’s beheading. Hayes alternates between the first and third person with an omniscient view of the proceedings. By far and large, it is a page-turner, but there are stuff that just didn’t sit down well with me.
I am of the opinion that suspense thrillers need to have a relentless pace and a succinct prose, every sentence written needs to push the plot forward and nothing much is disposable. But at 888 pages the narrative is drowning in extreme minute details and it could really use some judicious excising. Like why would I need so much languorous details on the characters’ childhood? Hayes’ style also doesn’t involve me a lot because he prefers to tell, tell, tell and tell. The book feels like a helluva lot of shorthands for him to eventually turn it into a movie, and I just checked IMDb, he is in the process of adapting it for a Mathew Vaughn film project.
I am also not convinced by the antagonist’s motivation during the climax. He has spent a good part of his life masterminding a deadly plan of revenge and he throws it all away because of one person. Call me skeptical, but I just can’t believe it. He is just one step away from the biggest terrorist act of all time and he just throws it all away in a snap. And that falling action… all the way to the last page, I thought it would never end. Oh well… maybe the movie will be better.