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.