The Apollo Murders – Chris Hadfield

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield.

Houston, 1973, the latter years of the American manned space programme and the astonishing ups and terrifying downs obtained at colossal cost which defined the greatest undertaking ever. The race for the Moon having been won to no discernible benefit and the near-disaster of Apollo 13 having dented public confidence, unless a tangible reason to progress with further missions can be justified the Apollo project will soon be terminated, and planning for the concluding expedition is already in the advanced stages.

The crew of Apollo 18 and their backups in training and the details of the mission being finalised, former pilot Kaz Zemeckis has been assigned to Mission Control to act as crew liaison to align the established scientific goals with newly designated military objectives of increasing importance in the continuing shadow of the Cold War, the White House raising concerns over the Soviet Union’s orbiting spy satellites and their automated Moon rover.

An uneasy compromise governed by the limits of fuel capacity and the equations of orbital mechanics, the aim is to rendezvous with and disable the recently launched Almaz then land near Lunokhod and do the same, all with plausible deniability, and also ascertain what discovery the Soviets may have made in that area of the Moon, an already complicated manifest impacted by the sudden death of Mission Commander Tom Hoffman.

The Apollo Murders written by Colonel Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station and a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, he is an authority who cannot be questioned from the viewpoint of insider knowledge and understanding of the processes of the space programme, both the chains of command and the operating protocols of the officers involved and the technical detail of Moonshots, lunar insertion orbits and capsule recovery.

Offering a level of insight into the wiring and handling of control mechanisms so thorough it sometimes serves as an instruction manual, that approach is ultimately to the detriment of an already sluggish narrative populated by tight-lipped and process-focused scientists, astronauts, former astronauts, politicians and military men, none of whom can be regarded as particularly garrulous or possessed of notable personality, though at least one of them is keeping a secret already revealed in the opening chapters.

The title somewhat giving the game away ahead of time, similarly the step-by-step failure of Hoffman’s fatal helicopter crash is presented to the reader as it happens rather than after the investigation, leaving only the question of whether it was an accident or sabotage, that answer subsequently revealed in the internal monologue of the prime suspect rather than by any process of deduction by Zemeckis and his associates.

A thriller where mystery and suspense are vented into the vacuum, every action described without emotion as automatons go through practiced motions and protocols, the drawn-out prelude of training prior to launch fortunately gives way to a swifter pace after blast off as the careful preparations are derailed by the few genuine surprises in frustratingly quick succession before playing out an end-game which stretches credulity and wraps up without addressing the wider political consequences, The Apollo Murders flying on the reputation of its author rather than any significant merit of its own.

The Apollo Murders is available now from Quercus



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