By Chris Hadfield

Mulholland Books


472pp/$28.00/October 2021

The Apollo Murders
Cover by Lucy Kim

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Chris Hadfield examines a world in which the Apollo program was allowed to continue through an seventh landing on the moon, with Apollo 18 scheduled for April, 1973 in The Apollo Murders. The novel offers up aspects of a cold war thriller along with the details of the mission to the moon to close out that stage of America's exploration on space. Hadfield appears to be the perfect author for a book of this type since he has flown on two space shuttle missions as well as a a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station.

The novel opens detailing how Kazimieras Zemeckis lost an eye when his jet struck a bird during a routine flight in 1968, an accident which also scuttled his nascent career as an astronaut. Five years later, as NASA is preparing for the launch of Apollo 18, the final lunar mission, Kaz finds himself once again working at NASA when the director of the CIA has determined that the Soviet launch of the Almaz space station will threaten the security of the United States. Kaz is tasked with being a liaison to NASA and making sure that new mission parameters are followed to add a visit to Almaz to the flight plan for Apollo 18.

The Apollo 18 mission seems to be cursed from the beginning, with the death of one of the crew members only a month before launch, as well as the revised mission plan and the various incidents that happen once the launch has occurred. Despite the title of the novel, the novel is not a murder mystery. Much of the book focuses on the logistics necessary to get the Apollo 18 crew to the Moon and their mission there. The investigation into the first astronaut's death and any subsequent deaths takes a back seat to the action. Hadfield notes that Alan Bean is investigating the crew member's crash and the local sheriff is also looking into the incident, but any results they come across are reported second hand.

Although Hadfield is primarily interested in Kaz and the astronauts on Apollo 18, he does include some focus on Gabdulkhai Latypov, a Soviet technician responsible for maneuvering the Lunakhod 2 rover on the moon, and Vladimir Chelomei, the Soviet's Chief Designer. Their stories flesh out the action and allow Hadfield to present a variety of different points of view and goals within the novel. However, when Hadfield follows the astronauts on Apollo 18 during the voyage to the moon, Hadfield does have a tendency to switch between the viewpoints of the different travelers multiple times within a page, which can be disorienting.

Despite a variety of issues with the first stage of the mission, many of which NASA and Mission Control couldn't know about because communications from the spacecraft to Earth was limited, NASA gave the go-ahead to the mission to proceed to the Moon, trusting that communications could be restored once the craft had left Earth orbit and could deploy its high gain antenna. Although the ploy pays off, it is one of the areas that required the reader's suspension of disbelief that NASA would go ahead with a mission without clear communications, especially with the Apollo 13 mission such a recent memory. On the other hand, it is difficult to argue with the author's experience.

Hadfield's experience is what sets The Apollo Murders apart. Much of the novel deals with the logistics of getting the astronauts to the moon, whether detailing the technical needs of the spacecraft or the activity in Mission Control. In less competent hands, this type of detail can slow down the action of the novel, but Hadfield is able to introduce it as an integral part of the plot. In less knowledgeably hands, this type of detail can come across as the author sharing all the research they done with the reader in a lengthy infodump, but Hadfield is able to introduce the information in a natural manner that furthers the novel as a whole.

While mystery fans may be let down by the lack of focus on the murders promised by the novel's title, fans of the space program will enjoy Hadfield's detailed insight into a world in which and additional mission to the moon took place. Even if his Apollo 18 didn't provide the scientific mission that could have been assumed to follow Cernan and Schmitt's Apollo 17, the moonwalk conducted in the book offered a possible alternative in a world where NASA has to figure out how to accomplish their goals when they must deal with situations over which they have only the most limited control.

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