The Pilgrim sets off on a long and winding road

I knew I was going to love I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes right from the opening sentence. It was a line from a Beatles’ song, “There are places I’ll remember all my life—” The author obviously knows his audience. The story begins with a bizarre murder in a seedy New York Hotel. The crime scene replicates instructions detailed in a book written by a former high-level intelligence agent known under a variety of aliases that mask his real identity as Scott Murdoch a.k.a. The Pilgrim. When Murdoch is brought in to view the product of his “instruction manual” a complicated web of evidence unfolds.

Murdoch is a seasoned veteran of international espionage working at the highest levels of United States security and intelligence. When he’s persuaded to help the investigating New York police officer, the threads of the crime reach to the Middle East and uncover a potential threat to American security even greater than 9/11. As Murdoch peels back the layers of the simple crime in the seedy hotel, he travels to Turkey where it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. In keeping with his training, everyone he encounters is considered a bad guy.

When a young American billionaire is found dead after accidentally falling from the cliff in front of his luxury villa in Turkey, the plot thickens. Soon, the President of the United States (a fictional good guy, not the current one) is involved in the action. A rogue jihadist has created a vaccine-resistant strain of smallpox that he has manufactured and plans to release on the American public through seemingly innocent flu vaccines.

The severity of the threat is such that less than a dozen people are aware of it in order to prevent international panic and catastrophe. The Pilgrim draws on his years of expertise dealing with terrorists and traitors to eliminate the problem. The book was over one thousand pages on my e-reader (624 pages in hard copy) and I couldn’t put it down. It was a page-turner for sure but peppered with bits of humour and more than enough twists to keep me engaged the entire time. Author Terry Hayes is an Australian journalist and his first novel is a New York Times best seller—a remarkable achievement. I’d rate it 9 out of 10. Have fun.

Click here to order I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes from Amazon.

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Breaking the rules in Russia could be fatal

If you have a few hours, I'd be happy to share titles of my favourite books.
If you have a few hours, I’d be happy to share titles of my favourite books. Or you can check the “Book Reviews” tab at the top of my blog posting.

Recommendations for good reading often come from unexpected sources. A few years ago I went to a bookstore for an evening of discussion about Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book I hated and found trite but was curious to see why it appealed to other people. Only two people turned up—me and one other lady. Even the speaker was AWOL. The evening was salvaged however when the other attendee and I had a cup of tea together and traded titles of great books we’d enjoyed recently. She wanted the names of some Canadian authors, which I was happy to provide, and one of the books she recommended to me was Wild Swans by Jung Chang which I absolutely loved. It’s the story of three generations of women living three very different lives in twentieth century China.

A couple of weeks ago while sitting with foils on my hair at the hairdresser, the lady in the next chair started chatting to me about books and before you could say, “have you read?. . .” we were madly exchanging titles. When I mentioned I like historical fiction and really enjoy stories about Russia, she recommended The Charm School by Nelson DeMille. And, boy was she right. I couldn’t put it down.

charmThe story is set in 1988 Russia while the Cold War was still flourishing. An American tourist gets lost in an isolated, restricted forest area outside Moscow and is confronted by a rogue American who claims to be one of hundreds of American prisoners of war kidnapped at the end of the war in Vietnam and traded by the North Vietnamese to Russia in exchange for missiles.

The plot follows American Embassy staffers Colonel Sam Hollis, Lisa Rhodes and other agents as they attempt to verify the escapee’s story that the POWs have been imprisoned for more than two decades at a special high-security facility affectionately referred by the prisoners as Mrs. Ivanoff’s Charm School. The American captives are forced to train Soviet agents in how to become American in their speech, dress, demeanor and social habits. When the Russians are fully trained to be indistinguishable from real Americans, they are deployed to the United States as agents assigned to infiltrate and assimilate into sensitive areas of American business, the military and government where they will relay intelligence back to Moscow. This book was written pre-911 and its message is eerily prophetic.

The Charm School is fast-moving, never dull and follows the efforts of the embassy team to verify the story, locate the school and perhaps finally free the captive American POWs, who are now middle-aged. Espionage is always clouded by an overlaying lack of trust of anyone within the circle of characters. This is further complicated by the everyday difficulties associated with simply speaking, traveling, socializing or trying to work under the watchful and paranoid eye of the KGB. This book will appeal to men and women alike, and as I said, I couldn’t put it down. But, if you’re ever in Russia, don’t go off-roading.

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