Review of The Pilgrim Conspiracy

The Pilgrim Conspiracy by Jeroen Windmeijer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Pilgrim Conspiracy promises a tale in the style of Dan Brown, and it delivers. Connecting Freemasonry with the Pilgrim trek from England to Leiden and eventually to the New World by way of England, this is an erudite novelisation inspired by a real-life discovery of a fantastic manuscript.

There is a profound mystery, spanning time and enticing a series of disparate characters. There’s a gradual reveal of the context and the unifying thread and subtle subplots amongst the investigating detectives, and a real-world commemoration of the Pilgrim Odyssey set for 2020.

It’s a clever concept. In real-world 2017, linguist Piet van Vliet discovered the writings of a Leiden puritan. The discovery in itself is of great scholarly interest. The decision to collaborate with a novelist to spin a suspenseful tale around the artefact takes academic exploration to a new level. The concept is excellent.
The tale woven is rich and well researched. The structure into three specific episodes also contributed to the readability of the novel. It’s not a short tale, and breaking it into three makes it more digestible. By doing this author maintained my engagement throughout, and I wanted to read on.

As a note, I am unsure as to whether the author translated it into English or someone else was responsible for this. The narrative is slightly disjointed, and I wondered whether this emerged from the transition. Often the speech seems somewhat overly formal in English and when our hero Peter den Haas lectures he speaks differently to the character elsewhere and I was led to wonder if this was a more natural situation for the author.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the tale. The depth of research is well evident and well constructed. The cast of characters is well devised, although, in deployment, I was left troubled. Overall I have few bones to pick and I apologise in advance if some of this would have been revealed or substantiated in his earlier novel – although I was led to believe that they were too closely related.

The characters, although engaging in concept, seem somewhat wooden. There’s a strange relationship quadrangle between Peter as the main protagonist, his partner Fay, his married colleagues Mark and Judith. It’s hinted at but not overly explored, and one is left wondering why it is even raised. The relationship between Peter and his partner falls apart under suggested but seemingly unresolved circumstances. They reconcile, and this seems unsatisfying as we don’t come to understand what had really caused the rift and how it was so easily overcome at the end.

The villain of the piece seems a little bit bigger than life. Troubled, but seemingly omnipresent, and always with a ready trick to explain his survival and awareness.

The overall pace as well – although satisfying in reading – takes a long time leading up to the action. The tale is drawn out and the extensive context developed slowly (possible overly-developed), but the resolution seems to come at an unsatisfyingly fast pace.

In the end, I am not sure that I feel that the outcome reflects the buildup of revealing the fragments from the discovered manuscript, or the mysterious secret passed from generation to generation.

However, unlike a Dan Brown novel, this one operates on a far more erudite level and demands the reader be far more thoughtful and demands a degree of concentration. It is a solid piece of work and one that will be enjoyed by those looking for a novel in this conspiracy vein.

I was provided with an Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

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