Sunday, 9 November 2014

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

On the strength of it's plot, I Am Pilgrim is a very good book. I would probably give it 4 out go 5 stars. It's very good but not brilliant. Unlike many of those who've reviewed it so far, I wouldn't describe it as mould breaking or particularly original. The main plot revolves around an intelligence agent chasing a jihadi intent on unleashing a deadly biological weapon in the United States. There's a strong subplot involving a murder which has to be solved. Good, strong stuff, but nothing that hasn't been done before.

Having said that there are two things which elevate this book above the norm. The first is the writing. It's very well written, though it's first person - unusual in this type of international spy fiction. I think the reason books like this are normally third person is because when writing a story in first person everything has to be known to the narrator (or how else could the story be told in his voice). There are parts of this book where this is a little problematic. For example, when narrating the activities of the jihadi in Afghanistan, it's not really explained how the narrator would know it all. But the author pulls this off with enough panache to allow the reader to ignore this little quibble.

The most impressive thing about this novel however is it's structure. It's basically a masterclass in how to write a long novel  - 704 pages - without dragging and having the reader get bored. How the author does this is by alternating between the main plot (the impending terrorist attack) and the subplot (the murder investigation). Terry Hayes judges well when he's dedicated a large enough section to each and then switches. He continues this throughout the book and thus avoids the problem that many novels have where the middle goes on to long. That's a problem that can be particularly pronounced in longer novels but at no point while reading this book did I want it to end or feel that it could have been shorter, which just goes to show his skill.

The book was slightly spoilt by the end for me - without giving away spoilers, there's a scene in cave complex where mobile phone reception isn't a problem and I just thought, 'really? They can get cell phone reception down there?' But part of the reason this so annoyed me is that the rest of the books is so good.

All in all I would give this 4 out of 5 stars.

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