Defectors by Joseph Kanon
Joseph Kanon, Atria Books, 2017, $27.00, pb, 278pp, 9781501121395
It’s been twelve years since CIA agent Frank Weeks betrayed his country—and his own brother—then disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Now a KGB officer, Frank lives in Moscow under the eye of his “protector,” KGB Colonel Boris Vassilchikov.
Having completed a tell-all memoir, Frank summons his brother, Simon, now a publisher, to take it to press. But when Simon arrives, Frank employs his old boyish charm and candor to overcome Simon’s misgivings and inveigle him—once again—into playing a pivotal role in a scheme that could go very wrong.
Knowing his brother for a cool, accomplished liar, Simon keeps his eyes open as he makes his first irrevocable move in what feels like a high-stakes chess match. But the truly baffling nature of the game and its many players—Frank, Simon, the press, the KGB, the CIA, and a community of CIA defectors—becomes apparent to Simon only when Boris reveals the identity of the man he’s really been sent to watch.
He had raised his eyes so that for a second they seemed to be looking over a handful of cards, and Simon saw that it wasn’t chess they were playing, but some elaborate game of poker, all of them playing, all of them cheating.”
More than a spy thriller, Defectors is also a study in fidelity, a portrait of a man weighing his loyalty to his older brother against the certainty that his brother wouldn’t hesitate to betray him again.
The narrator’s fast-moving, muscular prose contrasts with the bitten-off cadences of the CIA defectors, a speech pattern reflecting the captives’ constant vigilance in the presence of ubiquitous KGB microphones. Complex plot twists skillfully laid out keep the reader riveted: always wondering what’s ahead but never confused. Joseph Kanon’s Defectors is recommended reading.
Originally published in Historical Novels Review, Issue 80, May, 2017, p. 42.
Citation: Rebecca Kightlinger, "Defectors," Historical Novels Review 80 (May 2017): 42.
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