Publication Date: October 12th, 2021
Hardcover. 480 pages.
The Apollo Murders is a historical fiction space thriller set during the 1970s in the tail end of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and tensions are certainly running high between the two nations. This book seemed like it would be exactly what I love, since I'm a big fan of both historical fiction and anything set in space–especially when it's a thriller or horror–but unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with this book, and I expected a lot more from it.
The story starts out with a new Apollo 18 mission to the moon that ends up having a few detours and unexpected changes to their planned itinerary. Any space mission is high stakes by the nature of what it is, but throw in some political tensions, some unexpected dangers for the astronauts, some questionable characters, and even more unknown threats, and things get a whole lot more chaotic. There is also a prominent political element in play with this book between the Soviet Union and the United States, as it takes place right around the time of the space race, and I thought this was one of the more interesting components of the novel to explore.
There were a lot of technical explanations given throughout the book, which was mostly fine, but something that I think some people will really like and geek out over, but others will find them something they may want to skim through, and I think it's valid either way. I don't think you'll miss too much by not reading all the detail, but it is fun to see the actual numbers and whatnot. I'll admit that I found it all a bit overwhelming at times as well, and didn't particularly care for quite how much it overtook the narrative at times. I think my favorite part about the technical explanations and the technology itself was knowing that the person writing this has had plenty of firsthand experience and how clear that comes through in the writing. There is a definite passionate and excitement behind this writing when it starts getting into talking about the spaceships and space exploration itself that feels genuine and really shines through.
The characters felt very cardboard-like to me and I really didn't care much for any of them, especially one of the main astronauts we follow. The only character I found somewhat interesting was Kaz, a previous astronaut who is essentially in charge of many aspects of this mission, and a character who I found particularly adept and interesting to follow. I also wasn't entirely sure who we were supposed to root for, because the main American astronaut who is at the very center of much of the drama and intrigue in this book was not the greatest guy, but we weren't exactly given reason to root for the Soviet Union, either. I appreciate the sort of grey areas that existed within this book, and it did feel fairly authentic in that regard. Still, I would've liked to have more than one character to sort of root for and/or connect with.
I didn't find this to be too much of a page-turning thriller and honestly felt it was a bit slow. I don't always like seeing the complaint that there was "too much telling and not enough showing," but that's definitely what feels like happened here. A big, momentous plot event would occur and Hadfield would state it in a sort of detached, subtly dramatic sort of way that, when done well–and occasionally–can work well, but since he used it so much it sort of ended up doing the opposite and made things less exciting. I think my biggest problem was that I wasn't really sure what the point of the big "mystery" really was, or how some things connected with others.
If you are looking for a high octane thriller set in space that keeps you turning the pages, this isn't really it, in my opinion. The tension is high and there are huge stakes, but it simply isn't written in a way that feels riveting, and I was often left feeling a bit uncertain about certain roles and/or potential consequences. However, if you love geeking out over space stuff and enjoy a more casual thriller with bursts of activity, then this is definitely one you should check out. If you do like this book or find yourself interested, I'm happy to report that it seemed as though the ending was pretty open to potential sequels, so keep your eyes peeled for that! Overall, I've given The Apollo Murders three stars.
*I received a copy of The Apollo Murders courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*