THE APOLLO MURDERS by Chris Hadfield (Quercus)
Well respected veteran astronaut Chris Hadfield brings a great deal of credibility and technical detail to his first novel, The Apollo Murders (Quercus, 12 October 2021).
Set in 1973, The Apollo Murders revolves around a final, top-secret mission to the moon. Unlike the earlier missions, Apollo 18 has a special military aspect to it that could prove decisive in the Cold War space race between the United States and Russia. Only Houston flight controller ‘Kaz’ Zemeckis knows the full extent of the mission, and he is responsible for guiding the three astronauts on board the Apollo flight and making sure that its secret missions are fulfilled. After take-off, however, the mission is compromised by an unexpected development and Zemeckis has to use all his skills and wits to keep the astronauts on course, even though someone on board Apollo 18 is not who they appear to be.
The Apollo Murders did not proceed as I was expecting. I won’t go into any spoiling details, but about a third of the way in the plot takes a very unexpected turn, before speedily making its way to a neat, heart pounding conclusion.
I really enjoyed the story, which keeps you engaged throughout. The opening sections are a bit slow, with lots of technical detail, but once the mission blasts off the story really swings into gear. As with Andy Weir’s The Martian, there is a lot of fascinating information here, most of which is seamlessly woven into the story. The mystery around the potential secret bounty on the moon is well handled and Hadfield keeps playing with the reader’s expectations all the way to the end. The suspense mounts steadily over the final chapters and Hadfield cleverly pulls off a tense ending.
Hadfield, who was a former commander of the International Space Station, fills the book with the sort of believable detail that only an insider would know. He vividly captures what it is like to hold onto the outside of a spacecraft in motion, and the fear and thrill of re-entry. This sense of authenticity helps to ground the action elements of the story makes it seem more credible.
Those readers who do not like science fiction need not worry, The Apollo Murders never veers into weird alien encounters and the book always seems possible, with some slight suspension of disbelief.
An unusual, but very enjoyable space thriller.
Four stars out of five!
The Apollo Murders was released world-wide on 12 October 2021.
Thanks to the publishers and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.