The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield

Nine stars

Exploring the Cold War through a new and exhilarating lens, this novel by former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has all the ingredients of a superior thriller. Examining the tensions of two superpowers, the space race is a poignant backdrop during the tense 1970s. When the Americans learn of a Soviet space satellite, they are less than calm. It will have to be destroyed before too many secrets can be conveyed behind the Iron Curtain. Doing so will require not only stealth, but also precise planning. With the launch of Apollo 18, there could be a chance for success, but nothing is guaranteed, as NASA has come to realise. When something goes terribly wrong outside the Earth’s orbit, it will take some quick decision-making to remedy it. All the while, focus within the White House and Kremlin is up into the stars, as both impatiently await news to share. Hadfield does a masterful job with this piece, stirring up emotions with every plot twist!

With space exploration still in its infancy, two political superpowers seek to earn the title of ‘master of the outer realm’. The Americans and Soviets have been fighting a cold, but focussed, political war on land and sea for years, but the battle to explore space is a new frontier. This is the premise of the novel, which takes readers as deep as they could possibly go.

NASA flight controller Kazimieras “Kaz” Zemeckis knows that all too well, as he helps prepare for the launch of Apollo 18. The Americans have had some success getting astronauts into space and onto the moon, but there is more to that with this launch. US Intelligence has deduced that the Soviets have a spy satellite orbiting Earth and transmitting news back to the Kremlin, something that could have dire consequences. Apollo 18 may be the only hope of destroying the satellite without drawing too much attention, but Kaz is not sure it will work.

After Apollo 18 launches into orbit, three astronauts receive word of their extra mission and are tasked with trying to neutralise Soviet spy power. It will be a delicate mission and no one is entirely sure how easy it will be to get the needed answers. Still, it is a must to protect America and every astronaut knows the importance of their patriotic duty.

When things go horribly wrong out in space, thing turn from a covert mission into one focussed on rescue. New protocols will need to be created and a loose ‘friendly coolness’ develops between the Americans and Soviets. Working together will be the only way to ensure the body count is minimal, while keeping the general public out of the know of any major mishap. Kaz and many others will have to rely on transmissions and limited capabilities of the astronauts while heading for the Moon, the still somewhat under-explored part of near space.

All eyes and ears are on the transmissions of Apollo 18 and its crew, as they seek to find needed answers swiftly and concisely. Holding their collective breaths, Washington and Moscow await news, putting aside their differences for a moment, but refusing to melt the chill in the air! A stellar piece of writing that pushes the Cold War to new limits!

Chris Hadfield’s experience as an astronaut comes through in this piece, which is full of great information about the space program. From a detailed narrative about the preparations for time in space to the explanations of procedures needed to survive outside of the Earth’s orbit, Hadfield presents a piece that educates as much as it entertains. The story is stunning in its detail and delivery, leaving me eager to keep reading as I discover things I had no idea existed. I can only hope there are more books to come in this vein, as I could not get enough.

The cast of characters is broad and each has something for the reader to explore. Hadfield has an array of those who could be protagonists in their own right, but I choose not to choose a single individual for this piece. Backstories are plentiful, as are the moments of development, when pressure and politics enter the equation as well. The reader will likely find someone with whom they can relate, or at least connect throughout the turbulent nature of the piece, making it an even more captivating story.

The premise of the piece was not only brilliant, but its execution was stellar from the opening pages. Chris Hadfield develops his plot in the early stages of the narrative and pushes forward incrementally in an attempt to paint a picture for the reader. With a great deal of backstory to use as foundation, the story must begin slowly, but soon takes on a mind of its own and leaves the reader demanding more as things progress. A cast of unique characters, as well as some known in history, provides the reader with something exciting and useful when offering context. Knowledge of the space program and space itself can be found throughout the story, aiding in the education of the layperson and not keeping them from understanding what is taking place. I can only wonder what else Hadfield has for readers in the coming years, as this was, if you pardon the pun, out of this world!

Kudos, Mr. Hadfield, for a great fiction debut. Don’t stop here, as I know you will have many who demand more space thrillers!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: