First Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books hardcover edition.
New York : Atria Books, 2014.
612 pages ; 25 cm
"The astonishing story of one man's breakneck race against time . . . and an implacable enemy. An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid. A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square. A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard. Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan. A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity. One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey. Pilgrim" -- from publisher's web site.
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Traces a collision between two geniuses--a tortured hero and a determined terrorist--in the aftermath of a murder that a world-class secret agent discovers has been conducted according to his own forensic techniques to hide the victim's identity. - (Baker & Taylor)
Pilgrim is the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent. His adversary is known only as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen saw his dissident father beheaded in a Saudi Arabian public square, creating a burning desire to destroy the special relationship between the US and the Kingdom. When a woman's body is found in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero, the techniques are pulled from a cult classic of forensic science that Pilgrim wrote under a pen name. In offering the NYPD assistance with the case, Pilgrim gets pulled back into the intelligence underground. - (Baker & Taylor)
The film writer for Bangkok Hilton presents a debut thriller that traces a collision between two geniuses, including a tortured hero and a determined terrorist, in the aftermath of a murder that a world-class secret agent discovers has been conducted according to his own forensic techniques to hide the victim's identity. - (Baker & Taylor)
"The astonishing story of one man's breakneck race against time . . . and an implacable enemy. An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid. A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square. A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard. Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan. A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity. One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey. Pilgrim" -- - (Baker & Taylor)
“I Am Pilgrim is simply one of the best suspense novels I’ve read in a long time.” —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“A big, breathless tale of nonstop suspense.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The pages fly by ferociously fast. Simply unputdownable.” —Booklist
A breakneck race against time…and an implacable enemy.
An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid.
A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square.
A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard.
Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan.
A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity.
One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey.
Pilgrim. - (Simon and Schuster)
First Chapter or Excerpt
I Am Pilgrim
There are places I’ll remember all my life—Red Square with a hot wind howling across it, my mother’s bedroom on the wrong side of Eight Mile, the endless gardens of a fancy foster home, a man waiting to kill me in a group of ruins known as the Theater of Death.
But nothing is burned deeper in my memory than a walk-up in New York—threadbare curtains, cheap furniture, a table loaded with tina and other party drugs. Lying next to the bed are a handbag, black panties the size of dental floss, and a pair of six-inch Jimmy Choos. Like their owner, they don’t belong here. She is naked in the bathroom—her throat cut, floating facedown in a bathtub full of sulfuric acid, the active ingredient in a drain cleaner available at any supermarket.
Dozens of empty bottles of the cleaner—Drain Bomb, it’s called—lie scattered on the floor. Unnoticed, I start picking through them. They’ve all got their price tags still attached and I see that, in order to avoid suspicion, whoever killed her bought them at twenty different stores. I’ve always said it’s hard not to admire good planning.
The place is in chaos, the noise deafening—police radios blaring, coroner’s assistants yelling for support, a Hispanic woman sobbing. Even if a victim doesn’t know anyone in the world, it seems like there’s always someone sobbing at a scene like this.
The young woman in the bath is unrecognizable—the three days she has spent in the acid have destroyed all her features. That was the plan I guess—whoever killed her had also weighed down her hands with telephone books. The acid has dissolved not only her fingerprints but almost the entire metacarpal structure underneath. Unless the forensic guys at the NYPD get lucky with a dental match, they’ll have a helluva time putting a name to this one.
In places like this, where you get a feeling evil still clings to the walls, your mind can veer into strange territory. The idea of a young woman without a face made me think of a Lennon/McCartney groove from long ago—it’s about Eleanor Rigby, a woman who wore a face that she kept in a jar by the door. In my head I start calling the victim Eleanor. The crime-scene team still have work to do, but there isn’t a person in the place who doesn’t think Eleanor was killed during sex: the mattress half off the base, the tangled sheets, a brown spray of decaying arterial blood on a bedside table. The really sick ones figure he cut her throat while he was still inside her. The bad thing is—they may be right. However she died, those that look for blessings may find one here—she wouldn’t have realized what was happening, not until the last moment anyway.
Tina—crystal meth—would have taken care of that. It makes you so damn horny, so euphoric as it hits your brain that any sense of foreboding would have been impossible. Under its influence the only coherent thought most people can marshal is to find a partner and bang their back out.
Next to the two empty foils of tina is what looks like one of those tiny shampoo bottles you get in hotel bathrooms.
Unmarked, it contains a clear liquid—GHB, I figure. It’s getting a lot of play now in the dark corners of the web: in large doses it is replacing rohypnol as the date-rape drug of choice. Most music venues are flooded with it: clubbers slug a tiny cap to cut tina, taking the edge off of its paranoia. But GHB also comes with its own side effects—a loss of inhibitions and a more intense sexual experience. On the street one of its names is Easy Lay. Kicking off her Jimmys, stepping out of her tiny black skirt, Eleanor must have been a rocket on the Fourth of July.
As I move through the crush of people—unknown to any of them, a stranger with an expensive jacket slung over his shoulder and a lot of freight in his past—I stop at the bed. I close out the noise and in my mind I see her on top, naked, riding him cowgirl. She is in her early twenties with a good body and I figure she is right into it—the cocktail of drugs whirling her toward a shattering orgasm, her body temperature soaring, thanks to the meth, her swollen breasts pushing down, her heart and respiratory rate rocketing under the onslaught of passion and chemicals, her breath coming in gulping bursts, her wet tongue finding a mind of its own and searching hard for the mouth below. Sex today sure isn’t for sissies.
Neon signs from a row of bars outside the window would have hit the blond highlights in her three-hundred-dollar haircut and sparkled off a Panerai diver’s watch. Yeah, it’s fake but it’s a good one. I know this woman. We all do—the type anyway. You see them in the huge new Prada store in Milan, queuing outside the clubs in Soho, sipping skinny lattes in the hot cafés on the Avenue Montaigne—young women who mistake People magazine for news and a Japanese symbol on their backs as a sign of rebellion.
I imagine the killer’s hand on her breast, touching a jeweled nipple ring. The guy takes it between his fingers and yanks it, pulling her closer. She cries out, revved—everything is hypersensitive now, especially her nipples. But she doesn’t mind—if somebody wants it rough, it just means they must really like her. Perched on top of him, the headboard banging hard against the wall, she would have been looking at the front door—locked and chained for sure. In this neighborhood that’s the least you could do.
A diagram on the back shows an evacuation route—she is in a hotel but any resemblance to the Ritz-Carlton pretty much ends there. It is called the Eastside Inn—home to itinerants, backpackers, the mentally lost, and anybody else with twenty bucks a night. Stay as long as you like—a day, a month, the rest of your life—all you need is two IDs, one with a photo.
The guy who had moved into room 89 had been here for a while—a six-pack sits on a bureau, along with four half-empty bottles of hard liquor and a couple of boxes of breakfast cereal. A stereo and a few CDs are on a nightstand and I glance through them. He had good taste in music, at least you could say that. The closet, however, is empty—it seems like his clothes were about the only thing he took with him when he walked out, leaving the body to liquefy in the bath. Lying at the back of the closet is a pile of trash: discarded newspapers, an empty can of roach killer, a coffee-stained wall calendar. I pick it up—every page features a black-and-white photo of an ancient ruin—the Coliseum, a Greek temple, the Library of Celsus at night. Very arty. But the pages are blank, not an appointment on any of them—except as a coffee mat, it seems like it’s never been used and I throw it back.
I turn away and—without thinking, out of habit really—I run my hand across the nightstand. That’s strange, no dust. I do the same to the bureau, bed board, and stereo and get the identical result—the killer has wiped everything down to eliminate his prints. He gets no prizes for that, but as I catch the scent of something and raise my fingers to my nose, everything changes. The residue I can smell is from an antiseptic spray they use in intensive care wards to combat infection. Not only does it kill bacteria, but as a side effect it also destroys DNA material—sweat, skin, hair. By spraying everything in the room and then dousing the carpet and walls, the killer was making sure that the NYPD needn’t bother with their forensic vacuum cleaners.
With sudden clarity I realize that this is anything but a by-the-book homicide for money or drugs or sexual gratification. As a murder, this is something remarkable.
Large Cover Image
*Starred Review* It looks like the perfect murder: an unidentifiable victim—a young woman found in a low-rent Manhattan hotel, face down in a bathtub of acid, teeth removed, fingerprints and face gone, and a murder scene devoid of fingerprints, DNA, or any other identifiers. The homicide detective in charge, Ben Bradley, is a long time friend of Pilgrim, a retired CIA operative who has penned a textbook on criminal investigations that the murderer has apparently read. Pilgrim, retired and reclusive, is drawn into the case by Bradley and is quickly in the middle of an international manhunt moving through the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. This is more than just a murder mystery; there is also a biological threat against the U.S., which ties into the murder. The characters are skillfully brought to life in this action-packed worldwide adventure, and Pilgrim is a quick-witted and thoroughly fascinating protagonist. Growing up as the adopted son in a very wealthy family, he is a brilliant loner recruited by the Division, a top-secret black ops group that is eventually disbanded. His adversary here, another loner, nicknamed Saracen, grew up in Saudi Arabia, where his father was beheaded for criticizing the king; international politics makes for fascinating backstory. The novel is gruesome at times, but none of the violence is gratuitous, and unfortunately, it all feels quite real and believable. Don't be put off by the length of this book. The story is tightly plotted, and the pages fly by ferociously fast. Simply unputdownable. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
A woman's body is found in a New York hotel, her teeth missing and her features dissolved by acid. All the surfaces in the room have been cleaned, and the room has been sprayed with disinfectant to destroy DNA that may have left behind. It's a textbook murder, and Pilgrim, once head of a super-secret espionage unit, is the one who (literally) wrote the book. On the other side of the world, a Muslim jihadist, code name Saracen, synthesizes a fast-acting form of the smallpox virus. It will spread like wildfire when released across America: there's no protection against it. Pilgrim is called in to find and stop him. One of this debut novel's virtues is the sympathy screenwriter/producer Hayes (Dead Calm; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) shows for both his characters: Saracen must be stopped, but you understand what led him to where he is now. In his quest, Pilgrim finds the answer to the New York killing as well. VERDICT Sure, the race against time to save the world has been done before but seldom this well. Once you start this taut and muscular thriller, you won't be able to put it down. [See Prepub Alert, 11/10/13.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
[Page 97]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews
This hefty debut from longtime screenwriter Hayes was 2014's most memorable thriller, filled with cinematic twists and turns. Retired CIA operative Pilgrim connects a seemingly random murder in a New York hotel room to the case of a young, brilliant Saudi doctor who synthesizes an incurable strand of smallpox with designs of releasing it in the United States as a biological weapon. (LJ 1/1/14)
[Page 37]. (c) Copyright 2015 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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