Insights on people who defect

by Sebastian Lim

Title: The Defector

Author: Chris Hadfield

Publisher: Quercus

ISBN: 978152943105

This thriller offers insider detail and political intrigue drawn from some real events. A nerve-racking story written by someone who was a top test pilot before he became one of the most experienced astronauts during the 60s.

The story kicks off when a Soviet test pilot defected to the United States in 1973, bringing the super-advanced MiG-25 Foxbat with him – along with personal agendas.

Meanwhile, as Kazimieras Zemeckis (Kaz), a one time US Navy test pilot and current NASA official is vacationing in Israel with his girlfriend, Laura, he is shocked to witness what appears to be an Israeli plane shooting down the MiG. The intelligence-gathering Soviet plane is known to fly at such great heights and with such speed that getting close enough to threaten it has not been possible.

Though reported dead, the Soviet pilot, known as Grief, actually landed the plane at Lod airport in Israel and immediately asks to defect to the US.

After alerting US officials about what he’d seen, Kaz winds up accompanying Grief to the Air Force’s highly classified Area 51 testing and training site in Nevada. Here, the Soviet man is debriefed as technicians take apart and study the MiG before reassembling it back for flight test.

What Grief has given the US is beyond value — the secrets of the Soviets’ mythical ‘Foxbat’ MiG-25, the fastest, highest-flying fighter plane in the world and the key to Cold War air supremacy then. But every defection is double-edged with risk, and realising this, Kaz must walk a fine line between trust and suspicion.

Grief, with whom Kaz bonds as a fellow flyer, is eager to learn about the new American F-15 fighter, among other things as he starts his new life in the US.

Unknown to Kaz and the other US staff at Groom Lake where they stay and train, Grief is secretly pursuing his own agenda on the quiet.

Chris Hadfield, in a sequel to The Apollo Murders (2021), offers a lot of information on the hardware, flight technology, nuclear rocket engines, as well as displaying his own experience as a top astronaut and test pilot.

There are tense meetings in Moscow and Israel, with a large dose of back history as well as meetings of astronauts and cosmonauts in preparation for Apollo-Soyuz, the first crewed international space mission.

Lots of interesting stuff, but the climactic showdown in the air between the good guy and bad guy is a bit rushed but still exciting nevertheless.

The writing is engaging and the readers will be drawn into the events that unfold like they are participating in them.

A well-researched but ultimately a cool thriller for those who love planes. Very much recommended.

Sebastian Lim is an experienced journalist and editor who now runs his own book review blog — The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of The Weekly-Echo.