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Defectors: A Novel Hardcover – June 6, 2017
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PRAISE FOR DEFECTORS:
“Kanon [is] an intelligent writer who produces satisfyingly plotted novels that appeal to readers with brains.” (Philip Kerr The New York Times Book Review)
“With his remarkable emotional precision and mastery of tone, Kanon transcends the form. In its subtly romanticized treatment of compromised lives, this book is even better than his terrific previous effort, Leaving Berlin (2015). A blend of Spy vs. Spy and sibling vs. sibling (not since le Carré's A Perfect Spy has there been a family of spooks to rival this one), Kanon reaffirms his status as one of the very best writers in the genre.” (Kirkus (starred review))
"A finely paced Cold War thriller with [Kanon's] usual flair for atmospheric detail, intriguing characters, and suspensful action...Fans of intelligent suspense wil enjoy trying to figure out whom is deceiving whom." (Library Journal)
“Fascinating . . . [Kanon] is a master of the genre. . . [The] roller-coaster plot will keep you guessing until the final page.” (The Washington Post)
"Joseph Kanon continues to demonstrate that he is up there with the very best...of spy thriller writers...Kanon writes beautifully, superbly...he is the master of the shadows of the era." (The Times)
"The critical stock of Joseph Kanon is high, and Defectors will add further lustre to his reputation...There are pleasing echoes here of the “entertainments” of Graham Greene." (The Guardian)
PRAISE FOR LEAVING BERLIN:
“Engaging. . . . deftly captures the ambience of a city that’s still a wasteland almost four years after the Nazis’ defeat. . . . Kanon keeps the story humming along, enriching the main narrative with vignettes that heighten the atmosphere of duplicity and distrust.” (The New York Times Book Review)
“Joseph Kanon’s thought-provoking, pulse-pounding historical espionage thriller [is] stuffed with incident and surprise. . . . Mr. Kanon, author now of seven top-notch novels of period political intrigue, conveys the bleak, oppressive, and creepy atmosphere of occupied Berlin in a detailed, impressive manner. . . . Leaving Berlin is a mix of tense action sequences, sepia-tinged reminiscence, convincing discourse and Berliner wit.” (Wall Street Journal)
“The old-fashioned spy craft, the many plot twists and the moral ambiguities that exist in all of the characters make Leaving Berlin an intriguing, page-turning thriller.There’s also a star-crossed love story — and an airport farewell — that might remind some readers of Bogie and Bergman. But it’s the author’s attention to historical detail — his ability to convey the sights, sounds and feel of a beaten-down Berlin — that makes this book so compelling.” (Ft. Worth Star Telegram)
"Kanon, who writes his novels at the New York Public Library, conjures from there a Berlin of authentic menace and such hairpin turns that Leaving Berlin evokes comparisons to John LeCarre and Alan Furst. Such good company." (New York Daily News)
About the Author
Joseph Kanon is the Edgar Award–winning author of Defectors, Leaving Berlin, Istanbul Passage, Los Alamos, The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, Stardust, and The Good German, which was made into a major motion picture starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. He lives in New York City.
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The book opens in Moscow in 1961, where an American publisher named Simon Weeks is just arriving to visit his notorious brother, Frank. Twelve years earlier Frank had defected to the Soviet Union and became "the man who betrayed a generation." Now he is writing a memoir that Simon's firm will publish. Unaccountably, the KGB has granted Frank permission to write and publish the book.
Simon and Frank are the sons of a former senior New Deal official. They're descendants of an eminent old New England family. Both are Harvard-educated because Harvard was, like so much else, a Weeks family tradition. Through childhood and adolescence, Simon idolized his older brother. He followed Frank to Harvard and then into the OSS in World War II. Now, the anger he felt when Frank defected in 1949 is surfacing again. Because of obvious omissions in the manuscript he received, Simon wonders how much of the truth Frank is telling. After all, as Simon learns very quickly, Frank remains a dedicated and active KGB officer, as he is quick to point out. But Simon can't afford not to publish the book, which clearly will be a huge bestseller.
Putting aside his doubts and anger, Simon settles down to work on the memoir with his brother under the watchful eye of Frank's minder and bodyguard, a KGB colonel. But Frank cooperates only marginally, interrupting to insist that Simon take time out to walk in the park with him and visit Moscow landmarks. It soon becomes clear that Frank has an ulterior motive: he wants Simon's help to defect back to the United States. With great reluctance, Simon quickly becomes embroiled in a complex, mysterious, and perilous plot to help Frank and his ailing wife escape the Soviet Union. Kanon tells the tale with great attention to detail and deep regard for his characters. As in so many of his other bestselling books, the author has thoroughly researched his topic. He conjures up a picture of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khruschchev that is both chilling and credible.
Now, with “Defectors,” he’s become a successor candidate to John le Carré.
That candidacy starts with a plot that’s elegant. Consider this: Frank Weeks was a star in the early days of the CIA. No one knew he was a Communist, funneling secrets to the Russians, until he turned up in Moscow. “The man who betrayed a generation” also betrayed his brother Simon, who had to leave his government job and take up a new profession: book publishing. Now it’s 1961. Frank has written his memoirs. Simon is his publisher. He flies to Moscow to finish the editing with the brother he hasn’t seen in 12 years.
This isn’t a book with a climax that’s about a dispute over the Oxford comma. It’s an espionage thriller — things are never what they seem. As Simon realizes, “Every meal a performance. Saying one thing, knowing another. Something no one knew.” What does Frank know that Simon doesn’t? Even if you guess, that’s just the first right answer. I’ll spare you the spoilers that follow.
The concision of language — clipped, efficient, quasi-literary — is the second glory of “Defectors.” Over 290 pages, that kind of writing could become shtick. It doesn’t, because Kanon is deft with information-sharing. Here’s Frank, explaining himself in a way that gives you more than an explanation: “It’s a funny word, defector. Latin, defectus. Makes it sound as if we had to leave something behind. To change sides. But we were already on this side. We weren’t leaving anything.”
The third — and trickiest — test of a spy thriller is the relationships, especially how the men feel about women. Most of the thrillers I encounter use women as dupes or seductresses; the characterizations are primitive. Kanon writes real fiction, with characters who are recognizably human. Consider Frank’s wife Jo — she was once Simon’s lover. And he can remember that time:
"…now he saw her lying on a bed, dark hair spread out behind her, one leg raised, the hotel in Virginia, their one weekend. You never see a woman the same way afterward, knowing the body under the clothes, the way her skin feels. Someone you know, even years later, the look of her the same in your mind. One weekend, sweaty sheets, eating room service in robes, her throaty laugh, the way she gasped when she came, a whole weekend, just them, no one else. And then she met Frank."
“And then she met Frank.” Sticks a pin in nostalgia, doesn’t it? And suggests that the Moscow air will be thick with memories.
Finally, there’s the pleasure of watching experts share their expertise. At a lunch of defectors, one tells how he moved secrects across borders:
“Cool as a cucumber. My wife’s got the papers in her purse, the most valuable piece of paper in the world right then, and she gets to the train station and they’re inspecting bags. IDs, all that. Why then? Who knew? Maybe just routine. But she’s got to get on the train. So she’s wearing a sun hat and she takes it off and slips the paper in the hat, you know, behind that ribbon that goes around on top. And she gets to the M.P. and she says, here, would you hold this? While she opens her purse to find her ID. So he’s holding the plans for the bomb while she’s fishing around in there. So then thanks, here’s your hat, and she’s on the train. It’s one for the books.”
One for this book, anyway.