of the greatest crimes against a country is treason, spying
for the enemy. A recent brilliantly written espionage book,
Defectors, by Joseph Kanon, is both fast-paced and
realistic. This Cold War thriller shows the moves and plays
as if the characters are in a chess game. Beyond that, it
emphasizes the human side, what it is like for family members
of a traitor, as well as the motivations of someone who is
willing to betray and lie to everyone.
"I read about Kim Philby, a high-ranking member of British
intelligence who was a Soviet agent. He defected in 1963 after
working for the KGB. I had the book take place before his
defection because later he became disillusioned and I did
not want him to be a factor. Although I made the main character
Frank's apartment right around the corner from where Philby
lived. I wanted the defectors I wrote to be ideological, those
that converted to Communism in the 1930s as an act of faith.
They thought they were changing the world for the better,
now in the frontal lobe, Moscow. This was the high summer
for the Soviet experiment, before the admittance that it was
a big mistake. Soviet prestige was at an all-time high with
Sputnik and the consumer level improving along with the US
embarrassments of Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot captured, and
the Bay of Pigs fiasco."
place in 1961 Moscow, during the height of the Cold War, readers
learn about the history within a fascinating plot. It becomes
obvious very early on that within Russian society is a community
of Western defectors. While having privileges they are never
trusted, living a life sentence in protective custody. Scenes
are very authentic, giving a glimpse of Russian society, showing
how the KGB has a city within a city including its own apartment
complex and hospital.
is also the story of two brothers, Frank and Simon Weeks.
In the late 1940s, Frank was exposed as a Soviet Union spy
while working for the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. This
notorious high-profile American defector escaped to Russia,
now working for the KGB. Fast-forward twelve years where he
has decided to write a memoir approved by the Soviet Spy agency.
He has sold the rights to M. Keating & Sons, a prominent
publishing company currently run by his brother Simon. In
order to edit the manuscript, he decides to visit Frank and
his sister-in-law, Joanna, a former flame. After an awkward
reunion the three settle into reliving old times until Frank
delivers a bombshell, he wants to defect back to the US, using
his wife as bait. The suspense ratchets up and never stops
as both brothers play a cat and mouse game. Nothing is, as
it appears to be on the surface. Kanon does a great job of
having the tension come through in the thoughts, motives,
and minds of Frank and Simon, leaving the reader to wonder
who can and cannot be trusted.
is still the charmer who makes those around him relaxed and
comfortable. He appears to be the protective older brother
Simon had lost twelve years earlier after the defection. But
he is also seen as the leopard who has not changed his spots
and still capable of treachery. Simon begins to wonder if
Frank is betraying him again, only this time the stakes could
Kanon did not “want to make Frank a sympathetic character.
He was someone perfectly willing to betray his country and
family. He is a narcissist. I wrote him as someone having
a loyalty to Communism and the KGB. He totally has bought
into the myth that they are efficient, knowledgeable, successful,
and a superior elite group. Yet, he loves his brother Simon
and vice versa. Simon adored his older brother Frank even
though he always seemed to involve him in schemes and persuaded
him to do things against Simon’s better interest. This
is why their parents sent Simon to a different school, to
get away from Frank’s influence. It appears to be about
the good brother versus the bad brother. Simon had a conscience,
while Frank appears to be amoral.”
This gripping story tells of a family divided over Cold War
loyalties. Kanon weaves a masterful theme of betrayal, treachery,
and lies. With Russia once again in the headlines it is the
perfect book to understand the motivations of the different
players, including a KGB that nurtured Putin.