Year 2 / Book 50: Defectors

50) Defectors by Joseph Kanon

This was another recommendation by Laura Wilson in the Guardian from her reliable crime fiction round-up. And she’s reliable because generally the books she recommends are on-the-money, and this is no exception. It revolves around a publisher (Simon) going to see his brother (Frank) who defected from the US to Russia some years before: ostensibly he is going to talk about publishing his story (which is being allowed by the KGB for propaganda purposes) but as you might expect he is soon helping him with something else entirely.

It’s not the most believable of tales, but it’s hugely enjoyable – and gives some light to what life for the defectors might have been like afterwards (though whether they all hung out in the same compound of dachas seems unlikely). Well-known defectors like Philby, Maclean and Burgess rub shoulders with fictional ones as the story deepens and becomes more complicated. It unspools nicely as the story takes us from Moscow’s churches and convents through to St Petersburg and dark waters off Estonia and Finland.

The ending is preposterous, and the traps and double (triple?) crosses become a bit tiresome after a while, but it’s entertaining stuff and zips past at a fast rate as it ratchets up towards the denouement. For lovers of KGB-type spy thrillers with a twist of Le Carre, this will do more than well enough on the commute or beach.

Score: 7/10

BUY IT NOW: Defectors

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