Book Review: Defectors, by Joseph Kanon #Defectors

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster UK

Publication date: 1st June 2017

Dangerous games with perilous consequences are played to perfection in Defectors. This story of an American CIA agent’s defection during the 1960s is both fascinating and engrossing.

In Moscow, the life Frank Weeks leads with his wife and Russian bodyguard Boris is not what I’d expected at all. There are unwritten rules that are never broken and he’s careful not to abuse these publicly, but as he wrote most of them for ‘The Service’ he knows how to shape them to his advantage on occasion.

What I found interesting was his sense of purpose within ‘The Service’, the difference he expects to make regardless of the cost of his own country. When he voluntarily defected he left his brother behind with people asking questions he couldn’t answer. Even though Frank and his wife are officially held captive by his values, they have adopted a stoic performance for anyone who may be watching, listening and reporting their movements.

Frank is a curious character. On one hand you’d think him cold-hearted, in fact learning some of his problem solving techniques you’d better believe he is, but when the strains of a personal tragedy affect his wife he is motivated to take extreme action, offering a small glimpse of his personality other than being stamped as nothing more than a traitor.

Cue an invitation for Simon, his publicist brother, to join him in Moscow to discuss the draft manuscript of Frank’s memoirs which will set the record straight once and for all. Given the nature of Frank’s position, being a notorious spy, I would have thought that more intimidating powers were likely to object, but he has permission to go public providing he preserve the identities any ‘active’ agents.

But even as we follow Frank and a suspicious Simon (complete with the very loyal Boris) around on their meticulously planned sightseeing excursions while something even greater than the memoir is brewing, you never truly get a vivid picture of Frank’s train of thought. There’s always that feeling that he’s keeping something back that will never be shared until the end.

Adapting to changing circumstances and knowing the shadow of a Russian agent is never far away becomes natural, like breathing. Although it does takes Simon a little longer to adjust during his short stay. Simon’s principles may differ from his brother but a bond remains, where threats and complications are tackled with unflinching spontaneity.

Defectors emphasises the human perspective in a story of spies, lies, and family ties, where even the best laid plans can buckle under the weight of the wrong decision and the element of surprise is always two steps ahead. I was impressed by the speed at which the narrative hurtled along while a veiled authority determined the outcome of people’s lives with frightening unpredictability. 

Rating:   4/5

(I’m grateful to Emma Finnigan and the publishers for providing a copy of this title and it’s my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Some secrets should never be told.

Moscow, 1961: With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s international prestige is at an all-time high. And the most notorious of the defectors to the Soviet Union, former CIA agent Frank Weeks, is about to publish his memoirs. What he reveals will send shock waves through the West. Weeks’ defection in the early 1950s shook Washington to its core – and forced the resignation of his brother, Simon, from the State Department.

Simon, now a publisher in New York, is given the opportunity to read and publish his brother’s memoir. He knows the US government will never approve the publication of what is clearly intended as KGB propaganda. Yet the offer is irresistible: it will finally give him the chance to learn why his brother chose to betray his country.

But what he discovers in Moscow is far more shocking than he ever imagined …

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(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Joseph Kanon is the internationally bestselling author of eight novels, which have been published in twenty-four languages: Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel; The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett; The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers; Istanbul Passage, and Leaving Berlin. He is also a recipient of The Anne Frank Human Writers Award for his writings on the aftermath of the Holocaust. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus. They have two sons.

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11 thoughts on “Book Review: Defectors, by Joseph Kanon #Defectors

  1. This sounds good – your review has left me nicely intrigued! I do like a good spy novel occasionally and the idea of it being about someone who defected to the USSR is quite orginal, I think…

    Liked by 1 person

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