Pilgrim is a man of many names. Born in Detroit but orphaned as a child, he was adopted and known as Scott Murdoch. Since graduating from university and joining the American Intelligence Agency known as The Division his identity has shifted constantly. Pilgrim is whoever he needs to be at any time.
Early in his career he determines a senior American intelligence agent, actually the head of European operations for The Division, is a traitor and about to provide information on Russian informers to Russia’s secret service. Pilgrim does not hesitate and executes the Rider of the Blue.
At 29 he becomes the Rider of the Blue and sets out to find how the Russians were paying American agents. Through dogged examination of records, skilful deduction and ruthless tactics he determines the answer and America exacts vengeance.
In a startling decision he resigns from The Division after 9/11 and moves to Paris where he writes a definitive textbook on investigation that is published under yet another false identity.
How he is found in Paris involves yet another clever investigation.
Returning to New York he is drawn into a murder investigation where the killer has used the information in his book to destroy the identity of the victim and erase any sign of the killer including dousing the murder scene with an antiseptic spray that destroys DNA. He is intrigued by the murderer.
The plot turns to years earlier in Saudi Arabia where a zoologist was publicly executed for making unfavourable comments about the Saudi monarchy. His teenage son, a devout conservative Muslim, vows revenge.
Brilliant enough to realize Saudi residents who have challenged the establishment of Saudi Arabia, the near enemy, are crushed the young man, called the Saracen, decides to attack the United States, the far enemy. He hopes, by weakening Saudi Arabia’s ally, to leave the Saudi Arabian monarchy vulnerable.
Not for him to embark on some quixotic jihad against America. How the Saracen finds and develops a credible means for one man to threaten America is terrifying.
Pilgrim is drawn back into the intelligence world when America needs an agent to pursue Saracen. Hayes does equally well in putting together a plausible scenario for a solo agent.
Pilgrim is not surprised when he learns of the threat is from a Middle Eastern Muslim fundamentalist. He has been paying attention to the language of the extremists. He draws an analogy from a conversation with a German Jew who, having survived the Holocaust Nazi Germany, said that when millions, even a whole political system, say they are going to kill you then you should listen.
The book becomes a great chase. I was reminded of The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. The book builds momentum and tension through the pursuit.
I think of Robert Ludlum as one of the great thriller writers for managing to create believable roles for individuals in great quests. Hayes has achieved that rare accomplishment with the Pilgrim and the Saracen.
The characters of the Pilgrim and the Saracen are more complex than many thrillers. They are thinking men, not just action figures.
It is not a perfect thriller. In my next post I will discuss some issues I have with the book. While I do not specifically consider them spoilers I would rather keep them separate from the review.
I was not surprised when I learned after reading the book that Hayes has written movie screenplays and been a producer. He has a fine sense of creating compelling visual messages.
I thank Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy in an unusual format with the book in its own slip cover.
Lovers of grand thrillers will enjoy I Am Pilgrim. (Feb. 9/14)