Terry Hayes’s gripping debut novel is over 800 pages but well worth the read. The plot is pretty simple: Scott Murdoch (aka Jake aka Brodie aka …) is a retired secret agent. He was one of the best but now he’s hiding out in Paris, taking stock of his life post 9/11. The intelligence world has changed irrevocably, Scott is out of a job and he also knows that there are many people who would like him dead. He is very reluctant to return to his previous life but when a gritty New York cop tracks him down, he gets drawn into a very bizarre and intriguing New York murder investigation. And then, fast forward a bit, he is hand-picked by the head of the CIA to be a one-man secret operative hunting the world’s most wanted would-be terrorist.
The other side of the story is the Saracen. Hayes has done a brilliant job of getting into the head of a Saudi exile who is plotting to wipe out millions of Americans through a biological terror attack. The Saracen’s family life, his training and psychology are all detailed very convincingly.
However, when I had finished I couldn’t help wondering about a few things. I should probably put a SPOILER alert here but I will try not to give away the details of the plot. Firstly, why are Scott and the Saracen operating largely on their own? Everything that I know about al-Qaeda or ISIL or ISIS tells me that agents tend to operate in groups. They are trained in cells and they need a support network. The way I am Pilgrim plays out it’s Scott vs the Saracen. We know who will win but it’s still a nail-biting race against time.
Secondly, isn’t it convenient that the terrorists (in this case the Saracen plus some Albanian thugs) use the same interrogation techniques on Scott as the US use on their prisoners? If the CIA were trying to justify the use of waterboarding on terror suspects, they couldn’t have done a better job. Yes, they might say, this interrogation technique is abhorrent but see how the terrorists are using it themselves. All is fair in love and war.
Thirdly, I did wonder about the boy with Down’s syndrome. Call me cynical but did we need the added heart-string-pulling of a child with disabilities? Disability as a plot-device leaves me a little uneasy.
All told though, an excellent thriller up there with the best that you will read. Hayes is also a very successful scriptwriter so we can expect that when this becomes a movie it will be huge.