Terry Hayes: I AM PILGRIM
At almost 900 pages this book redefines the blockbuster thriller. 'Pilgrim' is the codename for a mysterious agent, formerly employed by an ultra-secret government hit squad, now working as a freelance. The grisly murder of a young woman in New York sets him down a trail of hideous crimes across the world linked to a new Saudi terrorist known as the Saracen.
The back-story to the Saracen takes up much of the book's first 300 pages. His father was publicly executed by the Saudi regime, although it is on America that the son's thirst for vengeance soon focuses. He witnesses - and causes - atrocities in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. His travels also take him to Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and, eventually, Europe. He plans an outrage that - more even than 9/11 - will show America the full extent of Islamic terror.
Luckily for us, one tiny piece of evidence sets US Intelligence - and Pilgrim - in pursuit.
This kind of thriller - lone-wolf operative versus fiendish terrorist or terror group - is the stuff of thrillers good and not-so-good. Dan Brown is clearly the Main Man of recent times although, for my money, Frederick Forsyth is the greatest exponent of this type of story with The Fourth Protocol probably his most audacious plot. I Am Pilgrim is good, even very good, but the sheer length of the book makes this an ultimately exhausting read. Shorten it and it might have been one of the all-time greats. The Saracen is up there with the great villains of fiction (Hannibal Lector, the Jackal, Blofeld) - charismatic, plausible, almost pleasingly evil. The Arabian and Afghan scenes are total page-turners, but the first segment set in Bodrum, although not actually boring, does see the pace slowing. Bodrum is a down-market location, Turkey's answer to Margate or Benidorm, but Hayes takes some liberties with the topography to make it appear spooky rather than tacky.. There's a daft boat-dock scene that belongs in a Bond movie from the Roger Moore era and the climax, in Bodrum's Roman ruins, is also disappointingly ludicrous.
The writing is unpretentious and fluid with some choice phrasing here and there. UN HQ beside Lake Geneva is "brilliantly floodlit, totally useless." Terry Hayes could prove to be the heir to Robert Ludlum's throne (Freddie Forsyth's is safe, and Dan Brown has gone off the boil). Ludlum had some great plots but many of his books also suffered from over-writing and loss of pace.
Hayes may well be happy to be seen as the next Ludlum, but I think he could set his sights even higher.