Saturday, 27 July 2013

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

published 2013



‘She’s very attractive,’ I said.
‘Thank you,’ a voice said icily from behind. ‘People say I get it from my mother.’
I turned, and it was the cop, of course. She put her handbag and cellphone down and turned to the secretary. ‘Go to your desk, please, Hayrunnisa.’ Hayrunnisa didn’t need to be told twice.

The cop was dressed in a headscarf that was tucked into a high-collared jacket that fell to her knees. Underneath it she wore a long-sleeved blouse and wide-legged pants that brushed the top of a pair of high heels. Everything was of good quality – stylish too – but there wasn’t an inch of flesh exposed except for her hands and face. This was the other side of Turkey – conservative, Islamic, deeply suspicious of the West and its values. ‘My name is Leyla Cumali,’ she said.


observations: Very early on, the narrator says ‘Sex today sure isn’t for sissies’, in relation to a gruesome and horrible murder. It stuck in my mind, it got us off to a good start. This book is full of items to be noticed, for different reasons: Caulfield Academy (really, Holden?), a description of real-life war that sounds exactly like a computer game, two secret passages AND a hidden door with ‘a small, ingenious lever’ like the Hardy Boys, a character who thinks she might head for Perugia and the ‘university for foreigners’.

And the best reason ever for that old chestnut, a villain telling his victim and us what’s happening:

he had no interest in explaining to Tlass what he was doing, but he needed the rush of fear and adrenaline to dilate the pupils and engorge the organs with blood.

Sarah at Crimepieces in her review here explains why she thinks it’s best not to try to describe this book. It’s a huge spy thriller – 700+ pages in the print version – full of byways and anecdotes, each with a clue and a surprise and a little resolution, like a string of pretty beads (the one about the mirrors was good – is that really possible?). It was a whole series of steps, in the service of a very strong jeopardy plot.

I liked the way the narrator had no qualms or difficulty in telling us how clever he was and how wonderful everyone else thought him, though he seemed quite dim and callous to this reader.


This is a key sentence in the book - he comes back to it again and again: 

A small voice inside, a child’s voice, kept telling me something I’ve never forgotten: I would have such as to have known her.
- and I have no idea what it means. Is there a word missing? An editing error?

The presence of a child, the absence of a mobile signal, a record shop, how difficult it is to create a new ID – these were items that I felt were either screamingly obvious or problematic. The timings seemed way off – how many years were supposed to have passed between different incidents? 

The pro-American jingoism was a bit much (especially as Hayes is not American) – dead Americans plainly counted for a LOT more than the dead of any other nation – and I wasn’t impressed by the dragged-in claim out of nowhere that there’s no need for unions. 

But still, an enthralling spy thriller, and would certainly read another one by. Thanks for the reco Sarah…

The picture is actually of an Iranian woman. It was taken by Hamed Saber and available on Wikimedia Commons.

14 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, yes, I remember Sarah's review of this one. It certainly sounds like a really interesting and different kind of book. The setting has got me interested too, and I love that 'photo. Even though it's of an Iranian woman it shows so clearly what you're describing here.

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    1. It's a highly enjoyable book Margot - long, but worth it!

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  2. Glad you liked it Moira, I'm pleased you decided to read it. I just heard it's going to be Radio 2's book club book so I will try and tune into the programme.

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    1. I doubt I'd have read it without your reco, so I am very grateful - I really enjoyed it, and think it would be the perfect summer read for a lot of people. They shouldn't be put off by its length!

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  3. Interesting. Although not a fan of international espionage-type mysteries, this still sounds intriguing to me.

    I also could live without the U.S. jingoism or the point about unions not being needed (surge in non-union, low-wage service jobs with no health coverage or other benefits over here in the States) doesn't mesh with reality!), but it still sounds like a good summer read.

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    1. I'm the same - I don't read many of these books, but I do enjoy a really good one, and this one was clever and compelling, and a perfect holiday read.

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  4. I agree with Kathy D. Might give this a go after Thus Was Adonis Murdered which I've just begun, on your recommendation Moira, and I love it.

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    1. I'm glad you got Adonis, I hope you like it. It makes me want to go to VENICE, which sounds like something we should be doing sooner or later.

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  5. Try reading Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series, set in Venice. One learns something new with each new mystery.

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    1. Venice can't fail as a book setting can it? I have read a couple of Leon books, but should try some more. Thanks, Kathy.

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  6. Your post confirms like I will probably like this book... and I was already ready to give it a try based on Sarah's review. It also sounds like one of those long spy thrillers where I would get confused by all the bits of information. But regardless, a spy story with two recommendations. I cannot pass it up.

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    1. I think you probably will, Tracy: I'm not the biggest fan of spy thrillers, but this one worked for me. I liked the fact that there were lots of smaller stories within the big one: it was satisfying that there would be clues and then solution/resolution before getting on with the big plot.

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  7. Glad you enjoyed it, I'm still fence-sitting and can't make my mind up.(I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.)

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    1. I think it might be right up your street, Col, but it IS very long, you don't lightly undertake it, and I definitely needed to read it quickly: I found the time scheme quite confusing as it was, and I think over a long period of time I might have lost it altogether.

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