[Kanon] "is a master of the genre, and here delivers a book that will appeal to fans of The Americans and Bridge of Spies ... Frank’s plan to escape the Soviet Union is immensely complicated, but its unfolding is enhanced by Kanon’s graceful writing ... as readable and suspenseful as the fine espionage novels of Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, Charles McCarry, Robert Littell, Alan Furst and John Le Carré — and its roller-coaster plot will keep you guessing until the final page.
Each time I’ve finished one of Kanon’s books, I’ve asked myself why I haven’t read all of them. There are now eight. As soon as I was done with Defectors, I ordered all the rest from my local bookshop ... Kanon’s is a finely observed portrait of a bitchy, brittle, incestuous world ... If I have any complaints about Defectors, it’s that its depiction of the Soviet Union of 1961 doesn’t seem nearly grim enough. I was there 28 years later, and the place was a dismal dump where only the American dollar had any value. But this is a small complaint, particularly since all the substantial details of the novel’s setting are accurate.
This setup makes for intriguing stuff, especially given Joseph Kanon’s deft hand at sketching the old world of spies and their craft. But the book’s narrative doesn’t really take off until Frank throws a twist into the plot. It seems that he, the spy who has always presented himself as the true believer in the communist cause, now wants to sneak back home, and he expects Simon to play an indispensable role in this great escape. Kanon spins out this story with just the right amount of expert detail and vivid twists to make it convincing and entertaining in the tradition of John le Carre and Charles McCarry.
[The] 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 ... anon 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 ... 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.
Most of these plot elements will be familiar to readers of John le Carré, Gerald Seymour, and other great spy novelists. But 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. 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.
Edgar-winner Kanon’s fast-moving, well-written espionage thriller offers few surprises for genre devotees ... As always, Kanon gets his period detail right and conveys the setting vividly, even if the characters’ depth isn’t at the same level as in his better outings.