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The Apollo Murders

Review

The Apollo Murders

Several years ago, I was half-listening to a radio interview in which an unnamed expert commented on how profoundly the commercial news industry affects our perception of who deserves recognition.

My ears pricked up as the expert went on to say that back when every rocket launch was a high-risk venture into potential disaster, astronauts became media rock stars, and deservedly so --- surviving the trip was enough in itself. Today, most people don’t know the names of current astronauts in their own country, let alone those of other space-faring nations. THE APOLLO MURDERS may well change jaded 21st-century minds on that score.

Author Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first astronaut to walk in space, is a welcome exception to the unfortunate back-paging of space news. Not only a skilled aviator, astronaut and space shuttle crew member on Atlantis and Endeavor, and International Space Station commander (among his many other roles), he’s been a passionate space educator to folks of all ages throughout his career. No other astronaut has used traditional and digital media so widely and frequently to inform, inspire and entertain an enthralled public.

"For a splendid space tale that is explicitly fictional, THE APOLLO MURDERS deserves an equally high rating for authenticity, both human and technical."

In THE APOLLO MURDERS, Hadfield’s talent for turning myriad historical and technical facts into a spellbinding and informative plotline makes this Cold War-era novel, his first venture into fiction, well worth waiting for. In fact, it has everything one could ever want in a blockbuster movie --- except that you can vividly “see” every bit of it in his richly visual writing.

As well as evoking moments of ethereal and surreal beauty that so many astronauts have experienced when looking at our home planet from space, or peering down at our single moon, Hadfield doesn’t shy away from the gross bits, which are stark realities, not sensationalism. People do get sick inside sealed space suits; other bodily functions do malfunction at zero-gravity.

Those small accidents of daily life on earth could be a death sentence in space, even more so nearly half a century ago, when life-support technology was barely adequate compared to now. Hadfield’s meticulous attention to the mundane details of housekeeping inside a tiny orbiting capsule back in 1973 when THE APOLLO MURDERS unfolds plants his readers firmly within a historical context that many will never have experienced in real life.

Any mention of the Cold War automatically evokes its two main protagonists, the US and the former USSR, a relationship rife with perpetual threats, espionage on multiple levels and occasional shows of superficial cooperation. And nothing captured the ethos of that era like the Space Race.

But if Hadfield’s backdrop was ready-made by known history, his biggest challenge in THE APOLLO MURDERS is to create a plausible fictional tale within it, one that would weave itself cleverly into the truth without being true itself. And this is where he reveals a masterful imaginative command of the big picture.

Without getting dangerously close to “spoiler” territory (which would be tantamount to losing orbit and burning up), Apollo 18 is launched as a military mission to intercept a Soviet project to retrieve an unusual object discovered on the moon. In both NASA and the USSR space agency, not everyone is who they seem to be, but with subtle character development and cleverly dispersed personal details, Hadfield builds in some mind-blowing surprises.

It’s enough to say that he creates the first military encounter in space, which takes place at a Soviet spy satellite; the daring rescue of a female Soviet crew member; a mysterious fatal accident on earth and more obvious deaths in space; a tasteful love interest; and, for good measure, a few unanswered questions.

Interestingly, the above-mentioned Soviet spy satellite, called Almaz, and the moon rover Lunokhod that become so essential to Hadfield’s complex but fascinating plot were both real and fatally malfunctioned in 1973, with no help from the competing Americans. And the real Apollo 18 never left the launch pad; it was one of several canceled after the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission that brought one of the most headlined eras in space history to a close.

For a splendid space tale that is explicitly fictional, THE APOLLO MURDERS deserves an equally high rating for authenticity, both human and technical. Whether there’s ever a movie version or not, Hadfield delivers the "right stuff" on every printed page. It will be a hard act to follow in any medium.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on November 12, 2021

The Apollo Murders
by Chris Hadfield

  • Publication Date: October 12, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316264539
  • ISBN-13: 9780316264532