At the end of I Am Pilgrim, author Terry Hayes has put in a note entitled “Dear reader”, which essentially apologises for why the book is so long. Indeed, it is a very long book, 888 pages in the edition I just finished. However, length is not one of my main problems with it, and I feel someone who apologises for the page count of his work is someone who has written for an audience who don’t really enjoy reading. I mentioned this in my review of Dan Brown’s Inferno – I’m not going to judge anyone’s book preferences, but if you’d rather be watching a movie, you should go and do that. This is not an intellectual judgement, just some friendly advice on how to best enjoy your own existence.
I Am Pilgrim revolves around a retired intelligence agent/super-investigator who is probably named Scott, but who uses the codename Pilgrim because of security reasons, and because it sounds cool in a book title. His deduction skills include things like looking at a hotel room and concluding it’s been rented by a female, because milk has taken priority over beer for fridge space. Clearly, Pilgrim and I spend time with very different types of women. Also, we have different opinions on what constitutes conclusive evidence in a police investigation.
We live in a time so saturated with action heroes that it feels a bit unfair to accuse any new protagonist within the genre of being derivative. It’s a bit like blaming the odour of a festival toilet solely on the last guy who used it. On the other hand, my posts are kind of reliant on visual props, so here’s a pie chart:
Maybe-Scott is dragged back into the intelligence world when it is discovered by chance that a lone Islamist terrorist has developed a vaccine-resistant form of smallpox with the very likely intent to share it with the western world without telling us. Our hero’s pilgrimage goes to southern Turkey, to find a woman with whom the fundamentalist chemistry enthusiast has been having phone conversations. He manages to identify this woman, thanks to a coincidence that some might describe as “astronomically unlikely”, but which I personally would describe as “just plain dumb”. Like I have mentioned in previous posts, I don’t rate books, but if I did do a 1-10 scale thing, this lazy writer’s shortcut on a crucial plot point would have subtracted nine points from my rating alone. Seriously, it’s unacceptable.
The book is drenched in something slightly suspiciously ideological, with countless suggestions that the end justifies the means, as long as the end is AMERICA! Our antagonist, known throughout the book as “The Saracen” (Because Terry Hayes thinks that sounds cooler than it actually does), looks like a caricature made by Marine Le Pen when his internal monologue turns into gloating over the lack of border control throughout Europe. The Muslim world in general is portrayed quite one-dimensionally, but that’s fine, because Hayes has made all the people of this world one-dimensional too, so that they’ll fit in. That being said, all the anti-western sentiments, Muslim supremacy ideas, cartoonish oppression of women and general arseholery across around 6-7 different Muslim countries would have seemed a lot less problematic if there had been a Muslim good guy or two involved. But really, the only semi-likable adult from the Middle East we encounter is a hotel receptionist whose English has an amazing vocabulary, but absolutely no sentence structure. This leads to linguistic absurdities like “The company of great thievery called Digiturk, which gives us the channels of crap”. You would think that someone familiar with the word thievery in English would also have a basic idea of how adjectives work.
Finally, the book suffers from a few instances of the author thinking he’s more clever than he actually is, leading to a lot of cringey quotes that are worthy of a blog post in themselves. So I expect to be writing something of that nature within the relatively near future.