It took me several hours over all of four days to finish I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Essentially the book is all about prey and predators of the human sort. Two characters stand out: the American intelligence agent and the Muslim fundamentalist. Who will emerge the victor?
It all begins with a fairly innocuous NYPD murder investigation in New York. The intelligence agent provides back story about how he got into the covert operations business and how he rose up the ranks after discovering evidence of treason when he was very young. Anyway the agent decides to shed the vestiges of his former life and become a regular person but beforehand he writes a book under an assumed name about investigative techniques. After this book comes into the possession of an American policeman heavily involved in the September 11 aftermath rescues, the cop and his wife decide to track down the agent for fun. Strangely their mission is successful and so the intelligence agent has to erase and re-write his past so he cannot be found again. Anyway the couple end up roping the agent into presenting at a seminar posing as the researcher for the book.
The other story is about a boy who saw his father publicly beheaded for criticising the Saudi royal family. Not having made it in time to witness the execution, the boy decides he will take revenge – not by striking out against Saudi Arabia but by going up against America which provides the nation with its wealth. Anyway this boy grows up to be known as the Saracen and comes up with a virulent strain of a biohazard and ingeniously devises a way of transporting his dangerous cargo to the US and to the people. There is a lot of back story of how on upon leaving his homeland, he joins a mosque and comes under a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood under an imam.
Anyway the intelligence agent is recruited to chase the Saracen to stop him from unleashing havoc at all costs. It leads him to a town in Turkey where he comes across a suspect that baffles him because she does not fit the profile he has. Anyway he makes the connection between the suspect and the Saracen and it is fortuitous that he does because when the climax goes down, he has a valuable bargaining chip.
Apart from the basic spy story above, there are other story arcs. The protagonist manages to provide a favour to a hacker, he ponders about disappointing his foster father by giving up sailing, he talks of making Swiss bankers give up their secrets for love and even the initial murder story we begin with is not cast aside but is caught in the undercurrent of the bigger and more overarching plot. To be honest, a lot of these asides felt like unnecessary padding. I am Pilgrim has many flaws but I forgave them because of the pull of the writing style. The casual xenophobia did bother me but I suppose it should not be surprising given the September 11 centric storyline and the Muslim terrorist as a villain. I think the written language suffers because this book has a made-to-be-a-movie plot. In spite of the interesting story Terry Hayes created, there are far too many instances of luck.
After finishing Gone Girl and Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects was on my high priority to read list. Now the deed is done. The first one blew me away with its complexity, the second one scared the hell out of me but being from a medical family and an avid fan of Law & Order and other police procedurals, the twist in this one didn’t surprise me as much because the symptoms were recognisable from the outset. Being set in the small town of Wind Gap, the suspect pool is pretty limited so this narrative is really about the guilty party’s motivation behind the murders of Ann Nash and Natalie Keene who were choked to death and found without their teeth.
Recently released from psychiatric care after a relapse into cutting herself, Camille Preaker, a reporter, is sent by her editor, to her hometown of Wind Gap to cover the murders for the Daily Post, the fourth-largest newspaper in Chicago, because he believes a serial murder case could boost the paper’s profile. This requires a reunion with her mother Adora who obsesses about ailments and her confident, fearless 13-year-old half-sister, Amma, which she isn’t keen about because unresolved ghosts of the past contribute to her mental issues.
Camille initially works alongside the police and detective Richard Willis with whom she strikes up a relationship until she seeks comfort elsewhere with a primary suspect. The author shows it is hard to keep things hush-hush in a small town and no-one can avoid suspicion. The path to identifying the perpetrator responsible for the murders before they strike again puts Camille on a head-on collision course with confronting the past she has attempted to escape.
Given she doesn’t damage anyone, the character of Camille is more sympathetic than Libby Day from Dark Places or Amy Dunne from Gone Girl but to be honest, she was too old to be having such childish issues. Some behaviours she exhibited suited a younger character who was about 19 or so. The character Amma interested me more given her powers exuded over the townsfolk and what the ending revealed about her was more telling than the truth about her mother. What fascinates me the most about this book is that in spite of this being a story about bad women, it is a feminist novel.
On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne has disappeared when her husband, Nick, arrives home. It appears there has been some commotion at home but to some investigating police officers, it looks too much like organised clutter. Being the husband, Nick is the obvious suspect and Amy’s parents start to slowly distrust him after he fails to show adequate grief for someone who lost his wife on national media. It turns out that Nick has secrets he has been hiding from wife and her adoring parents because their marriage has been rocky but the police have doubts as to whether he actually murdered Amy because there is no body. His only supporter is his twin sister, Margo, who never liked Amy.
The second half of the book takes a surprising twist showing that Gillian Flynn had been “gaslighting” her readers for the first half which is the entire theme of the book. I probably shouldn’t say more as I’ve already said too much. This is probably one of the best deeply deranged thrillers I’ve ever read given the well-written prose, but Amy’s characterisation has a lot more depth than Nick’s. I just finished reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and while Gone Girl isn’t that gratuitous or nihilistic, I couldn’t help but feel there were some not so obvious parallels about creating a facade.
While I have no qualms with encouraging people to read the book, people who only watch the David Fincher movie based on the book are missing out as they have changed some key elements of the story, including what happens with Desi. The casting of Rosamund Pike was great for “Amazing Amy” but I couldn’t really swallow Ben Affleck as the hipster golden poster boy, Nick. Usually books told in multiple perspectives don’t translate so well into film as major plot details end up being omitted in order to maintain suspense. Some people find reading the book gruelling as it gets off to a fairly slow start but I found the movie more difficult to follow than Flynn’s novel which kept me awake until ungodly hours.
Because I finished all three novels written by Gillian Flynn, I was led to read this book which touted itself as the next Gone Girl. As I submerged myself into the book, apart from the theme of unreliable narrators, it was clear to me I wouldn’t have made the comparison. There are three narrators who tell the reader the unfolding events in the story: Rachel, the jilted lover; Anna, the other woman; Megan, the cheating wife. All these characters manage to be somewhat repugnant but still compel tinges of sympathy.
Rachel, our evidently alcoholic and therefore cannot-be-trusted first narrator, is in the habit of taking the same train from Asbury to Euston each morning, even though she has been fired. During a regular stop, she always watches a couple living near her old home, who is perfect in her eyes and she has given them imaginary names: “Jess and Jason”. We find out she is pining for her lost marriage which once used to be like that. One day she is a spectator to something unexpected while on the train. Upset by what she saw, Rachel tells the police what happened, who find out she isn’t exactly a standout witness, and ends up becoming further involved in murky territory with the full cast of characters.
This book moves much quicker than Gone Girl does but the mystery and the sucker punch of the former is lacking here. Paula Hawkins puts in a lot of red herrings to misguide readers as to who the culprit might be but it’s fairly obvious to any seasoned crime novel reader. Gillian Flynn is the more superior writer when it comes to psychological thrillers because this felt more like a character study and their development than something to be shocked about. There was a lot of hype surrounding this book catapulting off Gone Girl’s success which ended up seducing me into its covers but I was left disappointed and unsatisfied in the end.