Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim

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I Am Pilgrim Summary

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I Am Pilgrim is a debut thriller by Terry Hayes. It is the first book in the Seyyah series and centres around one man’s journey to uncover a serial killer’s identity who instead becomes entangled in a terrorist conspiracy. It was first published in 2013 by Atria Books and won the 2014 Specsavers National Book Award for the Crime/Thriller Book of the Year. Hayes originally worked as a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald before turning his hand to screenwriting. He became very successful and wrote the scripts for popular movies such as Mad Max 2, Dead Calm and From Hell.

The protagonist is a man known as Pilgrim. Pilgrim is the adopted son of a rich American family and he’s always had great opportunities in life. He’s a passionate writer who used to work as a secret agent in a US espionage unit before he wrote a landmark book on forensic criminal investigations. He’s since retired from secret life, and we learn his real name is Jude Garrett. More than anything, he wants a normal life.

Pilgrim, however, can’t stay out of this world for too long. In Saudi Arabia, a young man, known as Saracen, turns violent. He watches his father die for offending the royal family, which shames his mother. Because his father’s crime is against royalty, no one supports his mother and she must get a job and earn her own money. This means she becomes more “Americanised,” which angers Saracen.

In his rage, he blames America for everything befalling his family, and he wants revenge. Saracen takes years to master the kind of weapons he’ll need to wage war against the US. He becomes a doctor, because he knows he’ll get access to knowledge and supplies which he can use to cause destruction. He wants to create a new, vaccine-proof strain of smallpox.

Meanwhile, Pilgrim’s approached by an NYPD detective, Ben Bradley. Someone commits a terrible murder in a New York hotel, and the police need a specialist like Pilgrim to profile the killer. When Pilgrim investigates the scene, he knows this is more challenging than anything he’s experienced before, and he’s intimidated by how violent it is. The killer leaves the woman dissolving in an acid bath to destroy evidence. He’s also extracted all her teeth. Pilgrim recognises this as the work of a professional and someone who’s perhaps killed before, which is a concern because they might have a serial killer on their hands.

As Pilgrim works on this high-profile case, Saracen begins testing out his smallpox on humans. It’s Saracen’s search for human guinea pigs which brings Pilgrim back into top-secret government work, because the US government needs his expertise to stop this killer. They choose Pilgrim not only because of his espionage background and training, but because of his interest in forensics and profiling.

The government understands that Saracen wants to infect the whole of the US with this deadly new strain of smallpox. If they can’t find him before he perfects his disease, it will kill millions of Americans before spreading across the world. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the terrorist, Saracen, must be someone who’s unknown to global terrorist agencies, which makes him even harder to track down.

Pilgrim, however, learns that Saracen knows contacts in Turkey, and Pilgrim goes there to find him. He pretends to be an FBI agent investigating another brutal murder—this time of an American billionaire—so he can get into the country. Surprisingly, this billionaire’s murder is connected to the murder Pilgrim originally investigates—the woman in the New York hotel. Pilgrim knows, then, that all these crimes are probably connected in some way. At the same time, the US government discovers that Saracen’s ready to send his plague to America. Pilgrim and the others must stop him before it’s too late.

Pilgrim must travel through the Middle East and Eastern Europe to find the disease before it begins its journey by air or boat. He finally tracks it down on the Turkish coast, where he meets Saracen for the first time. Saracen doesn’t understand the consequences of spreading a disease like this, and it’s up to Pilgrim to make him listen. The disease can’t be controlled once it’s released into the world, and it will kill many Saudi Arabians too.

Saracen hasn’t thought of any of this because he’s so determined to destroy his enemies in America. Pilgrim manages to convince Saracen to abort his mission and let go of his grievances. At the end of the book, Pilgrim returns to the US content with what happened and ready to retire, once again, from secret life.

I Am Pilgrim received mix responses from critics and general readers as it leaves many threads unresolved and character motives are very unclear. Pilgrim, however, represents everyone who’s trying to live a normal life and put their past behind them.