Publisher: Quercus/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 12 October 2021)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 15 hours and 14 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Prepare for one of the most impressive and complex debuts of 2021, with the exciting alternate history science fiction thriller, The Apollo Murders, by former astronaut Chris Hadfield.
In 1973, former test pilot turned government liaison officer Kazimieras “Kaz” Zemeckis arrives at Huston to supervise NASA’s latest voyage into space for their 18th Apollo mission. On paper, NASA plans to send three astronauts to the moon, seemingly on a scientific expedition. However, Kaz is also under orders to prepare the military astronauts on board for a covert operation to investigate the Russians’ recent rover mission to the moon as well as a secret spy satellite orbiting Earth that could give the Soviets an invaluable advantage in the Cold War.
As the crew prepares for their mission, tragedy strikes when a helicopter crash results in the death of one of the astronauts. Forced to take on a new crew member at the last minute, the team launches and begins to make for their primary mission, the spy satellite. However, the Americans are unprepared for the satellite to be manned by Russian cosmonauts determined to defend their station. The encounter results in a terrible accident and a cosmonaut being trapped aboard the Apollo craft as it hurtles towards the moon.
As the American and Soviet governments argue over the unfortunate events, the Apollo crew attempt to undertake a moon landing with limited crew and resources. Forced to work together with their Russian stowaway, the crew begins to descend towards the moon on an apparent joint venture. However, back on Earth, the Soviet government is determined to turn this to their advantage by any means necessary, even if it means utilising a long-hidden intelligence asset. Worse, it soon becomes clear that the helicopter crash that killed one of the astronauts was no accident. Forced to contend with the knowledge that an Apollo astronaut in space might be a murderous saboteur with nothing to lose, Kaz and the flight team at Huston can only watch helplessly as events unfold and the future of space travel is changed forever.
This was a pretty impressive debut from Chris Hadfield, who really showed a lot of talent in this book. Hadfield, a former astronaut known for his excellent rendition of ‘Space Oddity‘ filmed aboard the ISS, was able to construct a compelling and fast-paced novel with an amazing story to it. Combining detailed science with a complex alternate history thriller, The Apollo Murders ended up being an excellent and powerful read that I deeply enjoyed.
At the heart of this novel lies a captivating and multilayered narrative surrounding a doomed mission into space. Set in the 1970s during the golden age of spaceflight, The Apollo Murders follows a fictional 18th Apollo mission that goes very differently than intended, with fantastic espionage thriller elements combining with the science and historical fiction storyline. Told from a huge range of different perspectives, this book initially focuses on the planning for an Apollo flight, which intends to both explore the moon and disable a Soviet spy satellite. However, the story takes a turn when one of the astronauts is killed, and from there the story ramps up as the astronauts blast off into space while the other characters, both American and Russian, attempt to follow them while also conducting their own investigations and espionage missions. The novel has an explosive middle, in which the American and Soviet astronauts encounter each other in space with disastrous results. The consequences of this encounter lead into an epic second half filled with lies, deceit, sabotage and backstabbing, as two characters in space attempt to manipulate the situation to their advantage, while everyone on the ground, including Kaz, the astronauts, mission control, the Russians and a variety of other characters try to influence what is happening. This all builds to one hell of a conclusion, with interesting consequences for several of the characters, and one surprise after another.
I really enjoyed this cool story, and I loved the fun blend of genres that Hadfield featured throughout it. On paper, a thriller and murder mystery set around a fictional historical space flight seems a bit too complex for its own good, but Hadfield made it work, and the story is crisp and easy to follow, with none of the component parts overwhelming any of the others. The reader is swiftly drawn into the story and it was fun to see everything unfold, especially as Hadfield ensures that you can see all the various angles and treacheries as they occur. The author made excellent use of multiple character perspectives to tell a rich and captivating story, and it was extremely fun to see how the various characters viewed the situation and reacted to certain events. Each of the characters featured in this novel is set up extremely well, and the reader quickly get to see their unique personalities, history and motivations surrounding the events of this book, which makes them extremely relatable and easily to follow. While the identity of the person responsible for the murder at the start of the novel was a tad obvious, Hadfield uses this to its full advantage, helping to establish the book’s main antagonist, turning him into quite an arrogant and unlikable figure whom the reader really starts to root against. It was really fascinating to see all the various character arcs and storylines come full circle by the end of the narrative, and The Apollo Murders ended up being a brilliant and compelling self-contained novel.
Easily one of the best things about The Apollo Murders was the incredible amount of detail about space flight and the science of space featured within. Throughout the narrative, Hadfield spends an amazing amount of time explaining all the relevant science and technology that is relevant to the plot as the protagonists encounter it. At the same time, the author also features a ton of relevant anecdotes or discussion about the history of spaceflight up to this point, which often serves to highlight the scientific information being provided at the same time. All of this is worked into the plot extremely well, and the reader is soon given insight into what the characters are doing and the significance of their actions. While all this information had the potential to be extremely overwhelming, Hadfield manages to dole it out in appropriate snippets, ensuring that there is never too much science or history in one scene, only enough for the reader to follow what happens. This information is usually very easy to follow, and Hadfield’s writing style ensures that all the relevant facts are explained appropriately as the reader requires. As such, the reader is never left confused at any point, and it leaves them open to enjoy some of the epic scenes. I really must highlight some of the great spaceflight sequences featured throughout this book, including some of the epic take-off and landing scenes. Hadfield really paints a beautiful picture here with his writing, and the reader gets a detailed understanding of every element of the flight and what the astronaut characters are experiencing or attempting to do. These spaceflight elements are extremely well written, and I really must commend Hadfield for the work he put into making them seem as realistic and accurate as possible.
I must also highlight the great historical elements featured in this novel. I rather expected this to be one of the weaker spots of the book, especially with so much focus on the spaceflight or the thriller parts of the book. Instead, the reader is treated to a detailed and compelling discussion about the state of the world in the 1970s, especially surrounding the Cold War and the capabilities of both America and the Soviet Union. A lot of this history relates to space travel, which is probably why Hadfield knows so much about it, and he uses it to great effect throughout the novel, giving the story an appropriate feel. However, Hadfield also takes the time to examine the competing nations of America and the Soviet Union, and there are some brilliant scenes set in both, especially when it comes to the covert geopolitical battle occurring between them. Hadfield portrays this period perfectly, and I especially liked his great use of multiple real historical characters, including politicians, NASA flight crew, espionage heads and even a few famous astronauts such as Alan Shepard, all of whom played vital roles in fleshing out the espionage elements of the plot. While a lot of this book is based on historical events and facts, it is set around a fictional 18th Apollo mission. This alternate history element is a fun part of the book, and I really appreciated the way in which Hadfield tried to envision how the various governments would react to such as disastrous mission to the moon. I feel that Hadfield captured the political and social elements of this period extremely well, and I really appreciated this examination into history, especially as it combined with the thriller and space faring elements of the book extremely well to produce an outstanding and compelling narrative.
While I did receive a physical copy of The Apollo Murders, I was unable to resist the audiobook version, which proved to be really impressive. With a run time of just over 15 hours, I was able to power through this audiobook quickly, especially once I got engrossed in the cool story. I felt that the audiobook format was very conducive to following the various scientific elements featured throughout the novel, and I had a wonderful time imagining the elaborate space manoeuvres brought to life by the narration. However, the main reason that I wanted to listen to this book was due to its narrator, Ray Porter. Porter is one of the best audiobook narrators in the world today, and I am a big fan of his voice work in the thrillers of Jonathan Maberry (such as Code Zero, Deep Silence, Rage, Relentless and Ink). Porter ended up providing an excellent narration for The Apollo Murders, with each of the various characters presented with a compelling and fitting voice that fit their personalities and nationalities. While it was a bit weird in places to hear a voice from one of the other books I have heard him narrate, Porter was able to produce an excellent flow throughout The Apollo Murders, and the story swiftly moved across at a great pace. This ended up being an excellent way to enjoy this novel and I would strongly recommend checking out this audiobook version of The Apollo Murders.
The Apollo Murders is a brilliant and powerful literary debut from former astronaut Chris Hadfield, who blew me away with this amazing first novel. The Apollo Murders contains a fantastic and complex story that blends several genres into an exciting and clever read that takes the reader on a wild and thrilling adventure into space. Featuring a deeply fascinating look at historical space flights and based around a fictional 18th Apollo mission, The Apollo Murders was one of the best debuts of 2021 and I had a fantastic time listening to it. This is a great novel to check out and I cannot wait to see what Hadfield writes next.