Tom Clancy meets Robin Cook in a thriller that should find a place in many beach bags this summer.
Debut novelist Hayes brings well-refined storytelling chops to the enterprise: He’s written numerous screenplays, including Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Indeed, while reading this novel, one gets the sense it was written to turn into a screenplay or perhaps began life that way, what with its shifting points of view and a narrator who may or may not be reliable. Whatever the case, Hayes gets us into the thick of things right away: Pilgrim, a federal agent, is a brilliant student of the human psyche who just happens to have awesome killing skills that he’s practiced on several continents; in Moscow, for instance, he recounts, “even though I was young and inexperienced I killed my boss like a professional.” Don’t give him a bad performance review, then. He finds plenty of scope for his talents when put up against a former mujahedeen ominously code-named The Saracen, who’s resolved to wreak all kinds of havoc on the West for its offenses against Islam. He’s a bad, bad man—the fact that he wasn’t killed in the war along with a million other Afghans, Hayes writes, “would make most people question if not God’s existence at least His common sense.” Hayes is a master of the extremely gruesome scene—the opening involves an acid bath, and later we get popped eyeballs, beheadings and all kinds of grisliness. The story does go on a hundred pages too long and gets sidelined here and there, but it has considerable strengths, and the author gets points for avoiding at least some clichés and putting a few Arabs into key good-guy (or good-girl) positions.
Two psychos enter, and one psycho leaves. Good entertainment for readers with a penchant for mayhem, piles of bodies and a lethal biochemical agent or two.