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Year of the Locust by Terry Hayes

A full decade after his smash-hit debut thriller I Am Pilgrim captivated readers worldwide, Terry Hayes finally delivers the much-anticipated follow-up, Year of the Locust. This time readers are plunged into the treacherous borderlands between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan as CIA operative Ridley Kane pursues a deadly terrorist leader with a giant locust tattoo, intent on unleashing a catastrophic attack on the West.

Hayes wastes no time rocketing us into the action as Kane infiltrates Iran on horseback for a perilous rendezvous with an informant. When things go awry, Kane must fight for survival across hundreds of miles of hostile terrain, pursued by bloodthirsty extremists. It's an electrifying opening that showcases Hayes' cinematic flair for high-octane sequences, though some credibility strains early on as even those without CIA training start to question some of the decisions that are made.

The narrative arc of the protagonist proves him to be thoroughly capable, if somewhat thinly sketched, more an embodiment of rugged individualism than a fully rounded character. But Hayes surrounds him with an enjoyable supporting cast, like Kane's whip-smart partner Rebecca, who isn't afraid to take Kane's bosses down a peg. There's also no shortage of fun gadgetry for Kane to employ in tight spots, rivalling some of the best that Ian Fleming's 007 could muster.

The brisk pacing and short chapters make Year of the Locust compulsively readable. Hayes' prose pulses with visceral intensity, conjuring the stark brutality of life in the border badlands. His exceptional world-building skills bring the remote landscape and overly complicated bureaucracy of the CIA vividly to life.

But just when it seems Hayes has crafted a superior geopolitical thriller, around the 70% mark, he blindsides readers by wrenching the plot sideways into science fiction territory. Whether due to creative restlessness or commercial considerations, this jarring genre mash feels less like a twist than a forced grafting together of two different novels.

Long-time fans may feel bewildered by the bait-and-switch. Yet Hayes' propulsive storytelling manages to sweep all but the most disgruntled readers along through over 600 pages of intrigue across multiple continents and genres. The action-packed ending, while not wholly unpredictable, still manages to satisfy.

Overall, The Year of the Locust delivers more than enough white-knuckle thrills and detailed tradecraft to please genre devotees, even if the late left turn into apocalypse time travel territory strains credulity. It may lack the mythic resonance of its predecessor, but Hayes has clearly honed his skills as a master of suspense. So while the decade-long wait left some reviewers grumbling, readers who relished I Am Pilgrim will find Year of the Locust well worth the extended time frame.

Reviewer: Chris Reed



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