A Hero for our Times
Andrew Grant’s favorite scene in INVISIBLE is the opening one, set in Istanbul.
“Remember the old James Bond movies where there’s an action sequence before the opening credits?” says Grant, a native of Birmingham, England, who now lives in Wyoming with his wife, fellow novelist Tasha Alexander. “It’s like that. Paul McGrath is going to a clandestine meeting in the Grand Bazaar on a mission to sabotage the Iranian attempt to build their own nuclear weapon.
“It was a good opportunity to show the hero in his natural environment, posing as a black market guy, selling equipment the Iranians aren’t supposed to have. Showing what he’s good at. And it’s nice to recreate the sights and sounds of Istanbul on the page.”
Grant says he was lucky enough to visit Istanbul as a birthday present from his wife, who also shares his background in theater.
In fact, writing novels was never part of Grant’s life plan—and yet INVISIBLE marks his eighth published book. But while he didn’t intend to write stories, he grew up loving them.
“To me it was a question of what format, and theater is a very natural way, with people standing up and telling you the story,” Grant says. “You’ve got to change that a little bit when you put it onto the page. The idea behind it is the same. One of the things that it really helps you with is that you have that sense of having a cast of characters.
“Some are on stage at certain times and some aren’t, but it doesn’t work very well if somebody shows up in the first act and doesn’t show up for an hour and you think, where are they? You have to make sure they don’t stay off stage for too long. I visualize the scene in my head and try to put that down on the page.”
With INVISIBLE, Grant wants to introduce a new kind of hero.
“I felt there was a real shift in the times and the moment, and there’s a need for a different kind of hero, one that really stands up for the little guy,” Grant says. “We’re in an age where the difference between the one percent and the 99 percent is bigger than it’s ever been, where Wall Street guys are getting a small slap on the wrist for stealing billions of dollars and other people are losing their homes. So I wanted a hero for the times, someone with a particular set of skills who uses those skills to stand up for the little guy, who might otherwise slip through the cracks and be defenseless.”
After the opening sequence in Istanbul, the last military mission in the protagonist’s career, McGrath uses his background to look into the death of his father, with the accused perpetrator getting off on a technicality after evidence goes missing in the courthouse. McGrath takes a job as a janitor, initially to find out what really happened to his father.
“It’s a journey of redemption because he feels guilt about not being there for his father,” Grant says. “The way he can work through that guilt is by helping other people. As a janitor in a place like that, you’re literally one of the little guys. You’ve got security clearance, can go anywhere in the building, and no one notices you.”
That anonymity, though, is both a strength and a weakness. McGrath can’t let anyone know he’s helping. He has to stay invisible if he’s going to keep helping people battle a corrupt system.
“With crime fiction there’s a real element of satisfaction because you can have characters who put the world right,” Grant says. “That’s what I come back to with INVISIBLE and this new character—that he can tip the balance back for the little guy rather than the giant corporations. The janitor’s going to help.”
While he’s found success as a novelist, Grant knows what it’s like to struggle. His first love at the University of Sheffield was drama, and after graduating he founded an independent theater company which was well received, but financially challenged.
“I was completely broke and figured I’d get a real job for a few years to fix my bank account,” Grant says. When he took a job in telecommunications, travel made it hard to see plays, so he turned to books: action-adventure, Cold War thrillers by writers like John Le Carré, modern crime novels such as those by Thomas Harris and Michael Connelly.
And then he was laid off. Made redundant. One of the little guys, cast aside.
“I lost my day job 12 years ago,” he says. “My first book came out in 2009. It takes ten years to become an overnight success, right?”
Publishing has changed a lot in those past nine years.
“Even back with my first novel, there was an e-book version right away,” Grant says. “That was still quite a new thing. There was a time in the middle where there was a huge disruption, a push when they said e-books should be free or 99 cents. But wait a minute, surely all the people involved in writing, editing, and publishing a book deserve to get paid. A book is worth more than a cup of coffee.”
Borders shut down and independent bookstores were hurting—but now, Grant says it’s great to see independent bookstores making a comeback.
Another major shift is how people decide which books to buy.
“It used to be book reviews were all done by professionals,” Grant says. “Whereas now through Amazon itself, Goodreads and the blogs, every single person who buys your book has the opportunity to review it.”
He hopes to have the opportunity to make the janitor a long-running series character. The second novel is well underway, with McGrath maintaining his undercover role as a janitor in the courthouse.
“When the wheels of justice slip and somebody falls through the cracks,” Grant says, “he’ll be the one to pick it up and put things right.”